Clackamas County Democrats Black Caucus didn’t let Black, Clackamas County lawmaker compete for endorsement

The Clackamas County Democrats’ Black Caucus failed to give a Black Democratic candidate from Clackamas County an opportunity to compete for its endorsement, emails shared with the Oregon Capital Chronicle show.

For more than two weeks, Democratic candidate Jamie McLeod-Skinner has touted her endorsement from the caucus, which describes its mission as expanding political opportunities for Black Democrats, including recruiting and training candidates and assisting Black Democratic candidates running for office, according to the Chronicle, a news partner of the Pamplin Media Group.

The endorsement stands out because McLeod-Skinner’s opponent in the Democratic primary, state Rep. Janelle Bynum, is a Black woman from Clackamas County. McLeod-Skinner is white and from central Oregon.

It comes in the midst of an acerbic fight, mostly through proxies and dueling statements with candidate debates scheduled to begin in April, over who is the best candidate to take on vulnerable Republican U.S. Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer in November. McLeod-Skinner lost to Chavez-DeRemer by 2 percentage points in 2022 and maintains a strong base of grassroots support. State and national Democratic leaders have coalesced around Bynum, who twice beat Chavez-DeRemer in legislative races.

Oregon’s 5th Congressional District includes the cities of Aurora, Beavercreek, Bend, Canby, Gladstone, Lake Oswego, Milwaukie, Molalla, Oregon City and West Linn.

The Clackamas County Democratic Party voted to endorse both candidates, and both list the county party’s support in the state-issued voters pamphlet. But the county’s Black caucus only endorsed McLeod-Skinner.

Emails shared with the Capital Chronicle showed that wasn’t for lack of trying on Bynum’s part. In late February, caucus chair Mary-Elizabeth Harper sent a form email to many candidates, including Bynum, asking the candidates to let her know if they were interested in the Black caucus’ endorsement. If so, the caucus would send a questionnaire and vote on whether to endorse candidates.

Bynum’s campaign manager responded the next day, then followed up three more times over the next month, with no response. Harper did not reply to an email from the Capital Chronicle, and a publicly listed phone number for her was not in service on Friday, March 29.

“For the Clackamas County Democrats’ Black Caucus to not give a chance to the only Black woman in Oregon’s state Legislature — not to mention the candidate running to become the first African American to ever represent Oregon at the federal level — is deeply disappointing,” Bynum campaign manager Blakely Wall said.

Clackamas County Democratic Party Chair Cris Waller told the Capital Chronicle she wasn’t aware that Bynum’s campaign sent unanswered emails until Harper called her this week panicking after a call from Bynum. Waller and Harper had earlier discussed Harper’s surprise that Bynum didn’t apply for the caucus’ endorsement.

“This was not a case of endorsing the white woman over the Black woman,” Waller said. “This was a case of — as I understand it, because again, remember that they are a separate entity from us — that as for the other candidates that the Black Caucus endorsed, they got the materials back from Jamie and they did not get them back from Janelle.”

Not tech savvy

Waller said Harper is “not particularly technologically savvy,” and that she assumed messages might have gone to Harper’s spam folder. The Black caucus didn’t follow up with campaigns that didn’t respond to the initial email, and Waller said Bynum’s campaign should have contacted her earlier with concerns.

“I do believe based on everything I know about Mary-Elizabeth and everything that they have done in the past as the Black Caucus and with their endorsements that there was no malice on her part,” Waller said. “I believe she truly never did get the emails.”

Waller personally backs McLeod-Skinner and has recorded a video for McLeod-Skinner’s campaign. She said that public statement of support doesn’t count as an endorsement of McLeod-Skinner and that as county party chair she remains neutral.

Earlier this year, Waller and other local Democratic party members and leaders sent a letter to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee criticizing the national political organization’s decision to give Bynum more access to campaign guidance, fundraising support and other DCCC resources.

Through her deputy campaign manager, McLeod-Skinner responded to a question about whether she was aware that the caucus only considered her questionnaire by sending a statement.

“Once we knew of the opportunity to apply for the endorsement of the Clackamas County Democrats Black Caucus, we immediately applied, and I am tremendously honored to have received their endorsement,” McLeod-Skinner said.


Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Lynne Terry for questions: info@oregoncapitalchronicle.com. Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and X, formerly known as Twitter.

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