For the first time in 14 years, Oregon voters elected a Republican to a state office, but there's a bit more to the story than simply a surprising win in a deep blue state.
Lawmaker Dennis Richardson, a respected, though losing, candidate for Oregon governor in 2014, came back to defeat well-known Democrat, Brad Avakian, in the race for Secretary of State.
Avakian is the state bureaucrat who went after the business of the Christian bakers, Sweetcakes by Melissa in 2013. The owners, Melissa and Aaron Klein, refused to create a wedding cake for a lesbian couple. Though the bakery served gay customers, the couple believed that by participating in the wedding ceremony, they were condoning the marriage, which conflicted with their Christian beliefs.
Avakian's Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) went after the Kleins, resulting in them being forced to close their business.
Aaron Klein tells Independent Journal Review that the state garnished their bank accounts and assets to satisfy a $135,000 fine. In all, he says, the state took $144,000 from them.
Oregon political analyst, Rob Kremer, told Independent Journal Review that Avakian campaigned on the idea that he would use the Secretary of State's office to further his progressive political agenda and — surprisingly — that turned off a lot of Oregon's liberal voters:
"I think people in Oregon were uncomfortable with Avakian's stated objective of expanding the scope of the Secretary of State's office to broaden a progressive agenda.
While I don't think the Sweetcakes by Melissa case was the only thing that turned off voters, it was certainly an example people could point to to show that he was abusing his authority."
Voters weren't the only ones turned off. Avakian didn't receive one major state newspaper endorsement during the race.
Aaron Klein told Independent Journal Review that he thinks there's an abject lesson in what Avakian was planning to do as Secretary of State:
"His losing was a good sign that people don’t agree with somebody who is anti-constitutional to the nth degree. He never recognized our religious constitutional rights in his office. He just ignored them. And then he went off-kilter with ideas about what he wanted to do in his new office.
Klein also said that if people wondered what Avakian wanted to do at the Secretary of State post, all they had to do was look at what he's done at BOLI:
“He used his office to execute a personal bias and I think people thought he’d do the same with Secretary of State. Most people don’t know his son is gay and he’s got a dog in the fight. For him it's personal.”
Klein, his wife Melissa, and their five children aren't doing a 'happy dance' at home over Avakian's defeat. The BOLI chief still has two years left on the job.
Klein says he's working as a garbage truck driver to make ends meet, though he was recently injured on the job so is temporarily collecting disability.
Klein says that they're still appealing their case to the Oregon Supreme Court and believes that the religious liberties case will ultimately make it to the U.S. Supreme Court.