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Oregon’s Democrat Secretary of State resigns over $10,000 per month contract with marijuana firm

By Sarah May
|
May 3, 2023

Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan (D) tendered her resignation Tuesday amid a growing scandal over her simultaneous employment as a consultant for a controversial cannabis firm that had also contributed hefty sums to her campaign, as the Daily Mail reports.

Fagan stepped down shortly after also ending her contract with an entity known as Veriede Holdings, an affiliate of La Mota, a cannabis company that reportedly gave upwards of $250,000 to bolster her election prospects, and which was under audit by a state agency under her supervision.

Pressure Builds

Fagan's announcement indicated that her resignation will take effect on May 8, as Fox News reported, and it brings an end to growing outcry and frustration about her questionable links to La Mota and its owners.

As Oregon's second-highest ranking official, Fagan has been drawing a salary of $77,000 per year, a sum she has said is insufficient to cover her expenses, which include routine bills, student loans, and the costs of raising two kids.

Those pressures apparently prompted Fagan to enter into a contractual relationship with the retail cannabis outfit, in which she was paid $10,000 a month and was also eligible for massive potential bonuses if her attempts to secure licensing for the company in other states were successful.

The appearance of gross impropriety worsened last week when Fagan's auditing unit urged the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission to enact reforms for cannabis business enterprises so as to ease “burdens" stemming from federal tax and banking rules.

Stepping Down

Though, as the Mail notes, there is no proof that Fagan acted illegally by contracting with La Mota, and she had reportedly recused herself from the aforementioned audit, she was nevertheless facing significant pressure to depart from her high-profile role, which she ultimately did.

“While I am confident that the ethics investigation will show that I followed the state's legal and ethical guidelines in trying to make ends meet for my family, it is clear that my actions have become a distraction from the important and critical work of the Secretary of State's office,” Fagan declared.

“Protecting our state's democracy and ensuring faith in our elected leaders – these are the reasons I ran for this office. They are also the reasons I will be submitting my resignation today,” Fagan continued.

The beleaguered state official added, “At this time, I believe it is in the best interest of our state for me to focus on my children, my family, and personal reflection so that the secretary of State can continue to offer the exemplary customer service Oregonians deserve.”

Reactions Pour in

Deputy Secretary of State Cheryl Myers, who will assume Fagan's duties until a replacement is appointed, reacted to the developments by saying, as Fox News noted, “This is an unfortunate situation, but a change of leadership will allow agency staff to continue their good work with less distraction moving forward.”

Oregon Republican Party chairman Justin Hwang heralded Fagan's departure, calling it the conclusion to a shameful episode that reeked of political corruption.

“I urge the Department of Justice and the member's state ethics to thoroughly and immediately investigate what happened,” Hwang opined.

The GOP leader added, “This is the culture Salem Democrats have created and the leaders who run our state act,” further declaring, “[i]t's sad because Oregonians don't trust their government or their leadership.”

What Comes Next

As Oregon Public Broadcasting reports, speculation is now running rampant about who ought to take Fagan's place as the top elections official in the state.

The stakes are viewed as especially high, given that the incumbent will oversee the 2024 presidential election, and it remains unclear whether Gov. Tina Kotek (D) intends to name a “placeholder” individual who is unlikely to subsequently seek a full term, or someone interested in remaining in the position after the next election.

State Treasurer Tobias Read is reportedly among those contemplating whether the role is right for him, saying on Tuesday, “I anticipate having a conversation with the governor about next steps. That's the one thing I'm interested in: Making sure that Oregonians have confidence in the office and that we are prepared to run a really effective professional election in 2024.”

Names of several Democratic state legislators as well as top officials in Multnomah County have already been raised as possible replacements for Fagan. In Read's estimation, “[w]e don't have time for someone to be learning on the job,” in what looks like a clear indication that the upcoming process is one that many Oregonians will be taking quite seriously.