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Oregon House Speaker Dan Rayfield jumps into the attorney general race

Harry pington
House Speaker Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis, will end a decade-long legislative career to run for attorney general next year.

House Speaker Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis, will end a decade-long legislative career to run for attorney general next year.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

House Speaker Dan Rayfield will run for attorney general next year, departing one of the state’s most influential political roles in hopes of being Oregon’s top lawyer.

The Corvallis Democrat confirmed weeks of speculation Wednesday, formally announcing a bid that will make him an early favorite to replace outgoing Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, who is retiring.

“The more I started talking about this out loud, the more excited I got about how this role can really impact folks,” Rayfield, 44, said in an interview. “As a legislator you have the tools of policy and budget. As an attorney general you have a different set of tools.”

Rayfield plans to keep his role atop the House during the 35-day “short” session that begins in February. Nonetheless, his announcement – which he recently shared with fellow Democrats – will set off jockeying as the House prepares to name its third different speaker since early 2022.

The decision to leave the Legislature, where he has a big say in which bills and budget priorities live or die, is equal parts unexpected and sensible for Rayfield.

Unexpected because he will be abandoning that legislative power, and because he has long shown an interest in elections-related policies that are more closely linked to the secretary of state – another seat that is open next year. Sensible because Rayfield is a trial lawyer with his own personal injury practice, and a well-connected Democrat at a time the party needs a capable candidate for attorney general.

“People always say, ‘Why would you want to switch positions?’’ he said. “I didn’t wake up one day and say, ‘I think I want to be in the Legislature all my life.’ When I ran for speaker I said I’m not going to be here [long-term].”

Rayfield is the first Democrat to announce his candidacy to helm the state’s Department of Justice, and it’s not clear who else in the party might be mulling a run. Senate Majority Leader Kate Lieber, D-Portland, and Marc Abrams, a top DOJ attorney, were rumored to be interested in the role but have decided against running.

At least two Republicans are also running for attorney general, Will Lathrop and Robert Neuman.

Only Lathrop has begun raising money, with more than $200,000 in reported contributions. The former prosecutor in Marion and Polk counties has has been clear that he sees the race as a referendum on crime and drug use in the state. Polling shows both issues are top of mind for voters, leaving a possible opening for Republicans to win a statewide seat for the first time since 2016.

Rayfield, too, is signaling he’ll make public safety a focus, naming addiction and gun violence as two of his top issues. “I’m running to be Oregon’s next Attorney General to focus on keeping our families and communities safe–and making sure every Oregonian has the opportunity to succeed and thrive,” he said in a press release.

Addressing crime is a relatively small piece of the attorney general’s role.

The office can conduct investigations and send subpoenas in criminal matters, but often its criminal justice attorneys investigate cases such as child pornography and assist county prosecutors rather than filing charges and prosecuting cases on their own.

The attorney general’s office does far more. It sues corporations for actions that hurt Oregon’s investments, as with a recent lawsuit that accuses Fox News of harming shareholders by peddling falsehoods. It also sues the federal government. Rosenblum garnered headlines for repeatedly suing the Trump administration alongside other Democratic attorneys general for policies she said were illegal.

Rayfield says he would bring knowledge to the job that can help drive a conversation about issues, even if they are beyond the attorney general’s traditional role.

The speaker has been candid about being arrested as a teenager in Tigard for drunken driving and property destruction – both matters that were eventually dropped after Rayfield completed diversion and paid to repair damage. He says he wants to ensure youth get the same second chances he received.

Rayfield graduated from Western Oregon University, and received his law degree from Willamette University. He ran unsuccessfully for the state Senate in 2010, before winning the House seat he still holds in 2014. Rayfield climbed the ranks to become one of the state’s lead budget writers before House members elected him speaker last year, after Tina Kotek left the role to run for governor.

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