Federal judge rules against group attempting to recall Portland mayor

A federal judge ruled against proponents of recalling Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler on Friday, dismissing their request for a temporary restraining order to block the requirement they gather 47,788 signatures within 90 days to put a recall before voters.

U.S. District Judge Michael Mosman issued his ruling orally after a 45-minute hearing, according to Portland City Attorney Robert Taylor. Mosman’s rationale for denying the request was that keeping the rules in place for now won’t cause recall proponents irreparable harm, said Juan Chavez, attorney for those pushing the recall. Chavez and fellow attorney Alan Kessler argued that pandemic restrictions on unmasked face-to-face contact, large gatherings and normal working conditions, along with a mid-August heatwave, left them “through no fault of their own … unable to exercise their fundamental First Amendment rights to participate in the recall process.” Thus hindered, volunteer and paid signature-gatherers only collected 21,000 by the early October deadline, they said.

Earlier in the pandemic, when people were still under Gov. Kate Brown’s stay-at-home order, backers of a drive to recall Oregon City Mayor Dan Holladay managed to gather the necessary number of signatures within 90 days. Most of them were collected in the same way as before the pandemic, with recall backers showing up with petitions at the local farmer’s market and similar gatherings, said campaign manager Adam Marl.

Despite their success, backers of the Oregon City recall also think the 90-day deadline is too short, particularly given pandemic constraints, Marl said. They have filed a suit in federal court challenging the short deadline. Without having raised and spent the substantial sum of $17,000 they would not have gotten the recall on the ballot, Marl said.

Buss said it makes sense for the successful recall proponents to work to show the 90-day limit is unconstitutional to help other citizens in the future. “Most folks who challenge signature-gathering deadlines do so from a position of weakness: They ran out of time,” Buss said. “But my clients still believe it’s worth fighting against the deadline because it’s unconstitutional … And they are coming at this challenge from a position of strength; nobody can say that they’re just sore losers.”

Chavez, attorney for the Portland recall effort, argued that proponents would be irreparably harmed if they have to start over after having spent nearly $200,000 and gathered more than 20,000 signatures. He called for a broader reexamination of the parameters for Oregon citizens to petition the government and seek recalls, given the ongoing pandemic [Oregon Live].



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