Oregon Senate District 29 Contest Sees More Endorsement Concerns

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Oregon Senate District 29 candidate Todd Nash, Wallowa County Commissioner, speaks during a candidates forum in Hermiston on April 4. The Oregon Firearms Federation on May 15 withdrew its endorsement of Nash. (Yasser Marte/East Oregonian file photo)

Two more candidates for Oregon State Senate District 29 are facing endorsement challenges in the final days before the Republican primary election Tuesday, May 21.

The Oregon Firearms Federation on May 15 withdrew its endorsement of Wallowa County Commissioner Todd Nash. The federation also has criticized a pro-gun political action committee that endorsed Hermiston Mayor Dave Drotzmann, an optometrist with a small private practice, which also is connected to the president of the public relations firm managing Drotzmann’s campaign.

Jim Doherty, a cattle rancher from Boardman, also is running in the senate race and received recent public pushback after he accepted the endorsement of a pro-life PAC that seemed to only exist on paper and was run by the firm he is paying to manage his campaign.

Drotzmann’s teamhas made a distinction between its situation and Doherty’s.

Firearms Federation calls out Oregon Gun Rights

In recent weeks, the Oregon Firearms Federation has been criticizing a PAC that seems to have appeared out of nowhere, Oregon Gun Rights.

On April 19, OFF posted an alert on its website about Oregon Gun Rights and its endorsement of Rep. Christine Goodwin, R-Canyonville​, saying it didn’t seem the PAC existed.

“After almost 30 years as advocates for Second Amendment rights, we can tell you we have no idea who ‘Oregon Gun Rights’ is,” the OFF statement said. “They are not listed as a business by the Secretary of State. They are not a political action committee.”

The organization — officially registered under Gun Rights First PAC — was registered with the Secretary of State a week later, on April 26. Its earliest posts on Facebook are from May 2.

Two state political actors registered the PAC — Reagan Knopp, son of Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, as well as the senator’s chief of staff, and Kimberly Goehring, who works with Rep. Vikki Breese Iverson, R-Prineville, on her campaign.

“They just appeared, (April 26) have no members, no history, and even misquoted the Second Amendment on their first, newly created web page,” said Kevin Starrett, executive director of Oregon Firearms Federation, in an email. “They have exactly one transaction. To … Reagan Knopp.”

Starrett said he believed the PAC was misleading voters.

“Many voters who do not have the time to research every ‘endorsement’ will be taken in,” he said. “Well meaning people will be fooled.”

The organization’s website and Facebook list candidate endorsements for Oregon races at the county level all the way up to federal.

Nash loses Firearms Federation endorsement

Nash has not added this endorsement to his website nor has he posted on Facebook thanking the group. He also has not disavowed the endorsement. In fact, just the opposite is true.

“It wasn’t one that I sought, but they endorsed me,” he said, “and so I was glad to have it.”

Nash previously has touted his endorsement from the Oregon Firearms Federation throughout his campaign. However, the endorsement is no longer on his website nor his campaign Facebook page.

Starrett confirmed in an email the change in status and said the withdrawal is recent, as of May 15.

“After ‘Oregon Gun Rights’ posted their page endorsing Nash, we had an exchange with his campaign manager who told us she did not know who they were,” he said. “I told her who they were. After that exchange, Nash started using their ‘endorsement.’ Given his willingness to use the endorsement of a ‘PAC’ that was clearly created to mislead voters, we reassessed our support and withdrew the endorsement.”

Nash, who said he was surprised by the choice, attributed the decision to OFF wanting to be the only PAC doing this kind of work. He said he was given 24 hours to remove the endorsement from his campaign sites.

“I’m disappointed, of course, that they decided to pull the endorsement,” he said. “But they didn’t like the fact that there was another gun lobby that was doing endorsements. It wasn’t even anything that was on my radar, but (Oregon Gun Rights) reached out to our campaign and wanted to endorse, and that’s what offended Oregon Firearms Federation. And they’ve been at it much longer, they want to be the ones that are relevant, and so that’s a decision they made.”

Drotzmann’s gun endorsement

The Oregon Firearms Federation also criticized the Oregon Gun Owners PAC, which was initially started in 1975 and has endorsed Drotzmann.

“Their list of accomplishments lately have been basically none,” the federation wrote on May 13, but Oregon Gun Owners helped draft and promote House Bill 2535, Kevin Mannix’s 1999 bill to ban private sales at gun shows.

Additionally, OFF pointed out Oregon Gun Owners has the same president as Pac/West Lobby Group, the communications arm of which — Pacific Northwest Communications — is running Drotzmann’s campaign. Ryan Tribbett is president of the lobby group and the PAC. The lobby group is a branch of Pac/West Communications.

“Oregon Gun Owners is a subsidiary of a pay-for-hire lobby firm and does not actually represent gun owners,” Starrett said in an email.

Daniel Wattenburger, chief communications officer with Pac/West Lobby Group, emphasized he is working with the Drotzmann campaign and is not associated with Oregon Gun Owners. However, his colleague, Tribbett, is associated with the PAC.

“Ryan’s been, for 20 years, working with Oregon Gun Owners as a registered lobbyist and every campaign cycle they endorse as many as a dozen candidates,” he said. “There’s 10 this year, by and large not at all related with Pac/West doing any campaign work for them, so really in this case, Dave (Drotzmann) is the anomaly.”

There are six candidates, including Drotzmann, that Oregon Gun Owners has endorsed on its Facebook page.

“It’s a shame to kind of equate this with some of these pop-up PACs that have come up and have kind of put labels on candidates of saying they’re endorsed,” Wattenburger said, referencing the controversy over a pro-life PAC that endorsed Doherty. “Oregon Gun Owners has a long history of working in Oregon. This isn’t something that was created to give Dave (Drotzmann) an impression of something he’s not.”

Wattenburger said Drotzmann was endorsed because of his support of the Second Amendment and protecting Oregon gun rights. It had nothing to do with the connection between Pac/West and Oregon Gun Owners via Tribbett. Drotzmann also has a top rating as a pro-gun candidate from the National Rifle Association’s Political Victory Fund.

Drotzmann said Oregon Gun Owners asked him to apply for its endorsement and he’s proud to have it.

“Oregon Gun Owners association has been working for protecting rights of gun ownership in Oregon for 50-plus years,” he said. “Super proud that I got their endorsement, and I think they gave me the endorsement because they know I’m going to stand up for Second Amendment rights and protection of the right to bear arms.”

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