Intrigue at the State Capitol; Jesse Cornett Runs!

Kari Chisholm FacebookTwitterWebsite

[Editor's note: This post has been updated. See below.]

At 5:00 on Tuesday, candidate filings for the 2006 election closed. As usual, political junkies around the state awaited for word of last-minute surprises. And as usual, they weren't disappointed.

Frank shieldsAs the morning dawned, State Senate District 24 (outer East Portland) looked to be another sleepy race - an incumbent Democratic Senator (Frank Shields) and no serious challengers. Shields had filed for re-election in August, and had earned the endorsements of a number of organizations.

But, in the early afternoon today, rumors started spreading... Frank Shields wasn't running again. And in his place, Rod Monroe made a surprise entry in the late afternoon.

Rod monroeYes, that Rod Monroe: the tired old warhorse who has run for (and won and lost) elective office more times than anyone can count - from community college board to US Senate. Most recently, Monroe lost a 2002 election for Metro Council President (to David Bragdon) and lost his 2004 re-election to the Metro Council (to Robert Liberty). In 2002, his campaign fundraising from developers "raised eyebrows".

It looks to me - and quite a few folks - like a two-person conspiracy to deny the voters of District 24 an open election. Frank wanted his pal Rod to inherit the seat. And they conspired together - with Frank maintaining the illusion of a re-election race and Rod holding off his filing until the late afternoon on filing day.

With only a few hours to spare, progressives started frantically hunting about for another candidate to join the race. Someone with smarts, talent, energy - and with the right values.

Jesse cornettEnter Jesse Cornett.

Yes, that Jesse Cornett: co-founder of BlueOregon; co-founder of the Bus Project; Multnomah County Reserve Sheriff and Oregon Army National Guard veteran; aide to Bill Bradbury, Earl Blumenauer, John Edwards, and Mark Hatfield; the "incredible shrinking man".

I've known Jesse Cornett for six years -- and he's one of the smartest, most talented, and most energetic folks I know. He's good people.

At 4:30 p.m. today, Jesse Cornett walked up to the desk - and filed for the State Senate. A campaign wasn't in his plans when he woke up this morning, but sometimes, the future doesn't wait.

His campaign is only two hours old, but I know it'll be a grassroots, people-powered campaign - focused on the issues and on Oregon values. Want to help? Head on over to Jesse Cornett for State Senate and add your name to his list.

UPDATE: A kick-off event for Jesse Cornett for State Senate is now scheduled for Thursday at 5:30. Roots Brewery, 1520 SE 7th Ave (& Hawthorne), Portland.

Oregonians will be lucky to have Jesse Cornett in our State Senate.

[Disclaimer: As I said, Jesse is a co-founder of BlueOregon. As of two hours ago, I also agreed to build his campaign website. Please note that BlueOregon does not endorse candidates. Both candidates will be invited to submit guest columns entitled "Why I'm Running".]

  • (Show?)

    Congrats and good luck, Jesse.

  • Duke Shepard (unverified)

    As someone who got swept up in this bizarre turn of events myself, let me add in a few confirmations and details.

    This was definitively a backroom deal cooked up by Senator Shields, who hoped to hand off his Senate seat to Rod. I know both of them, live in the district, and serve on the Mt. Hood Community College Board with Rod. Rod's a nice guy, and two days ago I would've said the same of Frank. That said, this deal was underhanded. It reflects poorly on both Frank and Rod. In fact, Frank told me to my face just last Thursday that he was going to run and serve a four year term. Now, Frank has had some health issues and they are real, but don't buy for a minute that this wasn't a well thought out plan laid out well in advance.

    Obviously this filing day shenanigan had already been cooked up. As rumor of this leaked yesterday, my phone began ringing as progressives sought an alternative candidate to this inside deal. When I spoke to Shields and Monroe, neither denied it, just tried to sell me on it. Frank goes way back with Rod. In addition, Frank rents an apartment from Rod for purposes of having residency in the district - if you look at their filing info at the secretary state web site, you'll see that they actually have the exact same address

    Anyway, their plan was for Frank - who had filed in August, to stay filed, have Rod file today, then, after the filing deadline - so no other Democrat could file - Frank would withdraw, leaving Rod as the next State Senator.

    Many possible candidates - in the interest of full disclosure, this includes me - never even had an opportunity to consider running. This didn't leak out until noon or so yesterday. Imagine, had Frank been honest even just a few months ago, Jesse, me, who knows who else, could have looked at it thoughtfully, considered a campaign, built a team, etc. Instead, the day of the filing deadline, we get this - last minute scrambling, short timelines for life altering decisions.

    I'm glad Jesse is running. I hope he wins, and I'll help. He deserves huge credit for stepping up on basically two hours notice to radically change his whole life and take a big risk for the right reasons. This kind of backroom dealing shouldn’t go unchallenged and Democrats shouldn't let this mischief be rewarded. Plus, the last time I checked, new talent in the legislature is always a good thing.

    I really don't actually know Jesse all that well. But I know him well enough to support him.

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    I can't remember which district I'm registered in (because I'm overseas), but I just sent in my change of address form to Multnomah County. If I'm in that State Senate District, Jesse can count on my vote.

  • W. Bruce Anderholt II (unverified)

    Those entrenched incumbents sure are sneaky! It's not good enough they get to keep a "safe seat" for as many terms as they want: they actually think it's their right to pass it along to their chosen successor.

    Maybe some "clean money" down in Salem will bring them back down to earth!

  • activist kaza (unverified)
    (Show?) this the same Jesse Cornett who criticized (or at least questioned) my decision to confront a coronation (i.e. back room deal) making state Rep. Betsy Johnson into state Sen. Johnson back at the beginning of 2005?

    Well Jesse, politics has some delicious ironies as they say! Nevertheless, I am delighted to hear of your candidacy since I believe in contested races and real debate.

    And as for Frank Shields, who I interviewed many years ago as an intrepid east county cable TV reporter (and kinda liked, for being a straight-up guy!)...I must say, shame on you!

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    Jesse is fantastic!

    He has integrity, he is a very very hard worker.

    He has connections to so many in government and the private sector.

    I wish I could vote for you...I guess I will have to settle for sending you a check and maybe going for a walk sometime!

  • Lee Ann Donaldson (unverified)

    Go Jesse!

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    Jesse will not only do a great job down in Salem, but has proven experience working to elect progressives at all levels of government. This is a relatively safe seat for Ds, and they could do a lot worse than having someone who's willing to go out & work hard to defeat the Minnis agenda in other swing areas.

    Also, a word on the Shields/Monroe deal: I've worked with Frank in the Senate and have knocked on doors & made phone calls for him during his campaigns. I like & respect him very much, but if this is what it appears to be, it's a poor note on which to end things. It just seems undemocratic. Certainly, Monroe has every right in the world to run, but fairness dictates that others in the district be given that same opportunity.

    Good for Jesse for stepping up, and best of luck on the campaign trail!

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    I gave him his frist contribution. One Dollar so he could buy a water form the Capital gift shop. I'll give more. I love Jesse. He will be a great voice in Salem.

  • Texas Frank (unverified)

    Say, in other news, is there no Republican running in the 3rd Congressional District? It says Bruce Broussard filed, but three things stand out:

    1) The SOS webpage says Bruce didn't qualify 2) Bruce's webpage says he's running for Portland City Commissioner 3) Bruce is filed as a candidate for Portland City Commissioner and hasn't withdrawn (assuming the City of Portland's data is correct)

    What's really going on? Is Bruce running for Congress or not? Is the winner of the 3rd Dist. Dem Primary going to win the seat (presuming no other candidates run).

    A minor point, but a slightly interesting one to members of the 3rd District no less...

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    Jesse, Jesse, Jesse!

    Screw the non-endorsement clause--I'm for Jesse!

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    ah, from every adversity there is equal or greater opportunity. We have been blessed to have someone of the caliber of Jesse offer his services. Now, let's MAKE SURE HE WINS! Contribute early and often to Jesse's campaign. Every little bit helps.

    Someone let us know when and where his website is up so we can contribute online.

    Go git 'em. Jesse!

  • Jesse O (unverified)

    What, Rod couldn't find another job? Perpetual laggard who slept through Metro meetings and didn't show up to work? Incumbent who got his hat handed to him by carpetbagger Liberty? Sigh. Hopefully the voters will choose better man - Jesse.

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    Moses -- it'll be at Coming soon.

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    Update: The kick-off party for Jesse Cornett for State Senate is now scheduled for tomorrow at 5:30. Roots Brewery, 1520 SE 7th Ave (& Hawthorne).

  • Chris Chapman (unverified)

    I haven't said "Run, Jesse, run" in a while, I'm delighted I will get to say it now (even though this Jesse is not running for president, I'm sure Rev. Jackson will not mind this usage). I think anyone who has worked in Salem, understands how things work (or don't work) and is STILL willing to run deserves my support.

    Run, Jesse, run!!!

  • Kathleen Joy (unverified)

    Jesse - Thanks for making our world safe for democracy by fighting what appears to be a very sad ending to Senator Shields' long and generously illustrious career. Your willingness to jump in and take this giant risk is worthy of the support of all us. In keeping with the great Zen saying, "Leap and the net will appear", please know that the House of Joy will do what we can to send you to Salem.

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    Texas Frank -

    Bruce Broussard failed to withdraw from the City Commissioner Race before filling to run aganist Earl. You can't file for a federal and local election and run at th same time. Bruce is a nice man but that's stupid. It's a easy thing to check and if you going to run you really need to check the rules and not make simple mistakes.

    I think this is great and now Earl can do something almost unheard of in Oregon Congressional races and take both the Republican and the Democratic nominations. All that needs to happen is that all those wonderful Republicans in the thrid CD just write in Earl Blumenauer for Congressman. Earl BLUMENAUER. Blu like the color without an "e" and Men like man but plural and then Auer like errr... Like ah.. auer you know auer.

    This is however, slightly off the topic of Jesse so ah I know Jesse worked for Earl. So did I some I wouldn't make that big a deal about it.

    So come thrus and see Jesse and stuff.

  • Jeff Merrick (unverified)

    Yes!! Thank you, Jesse, for offering to serve.

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    Jesse has cost me money (in an insane eBay war to add to each of our Oregon Blue Book collections), and given me permanent back damage from riding on the back seat (stoop actually) of that Mini Cooper he used to have, but I like him anyway.

    I don't have any knowledge of this Shields/Monroe thing, and don't want to weigh in on it anyhow, but I do want to wish my friend well.

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    Good for you Jesse! Remember the little people!

  • jim (unverified)

    Sounds like the Secretary of State's office.

  • Levon (unverified)

    Can Oregonians trust a man who is a mere shadow of his former self?

    If Mr. Cornett is this svelte in March, just how emaciated will he be after knocking on thousands of doors?

    Should humanitarians permit such a potential tragedy without an intervention? Can Jesse have fries with that campaign?

    Mahatma Cornett?

    Eat Jesse Eat!

  • Allison (unverified)

    The crass tone of this post has gotten under my skin. Please forgive me if I fail to maintain decorum.

    "Frank maintaining the illusion of a re-election race and Rod holding off his filing until the late afternoon on filing day."

    Frank Shields is an old friend of mine and was a close friend of my late grandmother. He has always taken his public service quite seriously. Not only his public service, but also his devotion to the Democratic Party. He's been a servant of the community since before Jesse was born. Great guy Jesse may be, but he's a new comer with no legislative experience.

    In 2004 I, and several others, gave my time, my energy, and my health to win a Democratic majority in the Senate. Good for us, we made it. As our goals turn towards 2006 and a majority in the House, the last thing we need is to jeopardize D seats in the State Senate. It was in that effort that the Democratic leadership instructed each of the Democrat Senators to have a contingency plan should one of them not be able to continue his or her duties. As Frank actually inherited his seat from Rob, Frank thought it only fitting that he be his back up plan.

    Anyone who knows Frank knows that he's had some serious health difficulties in the past year. When he filed in August, it was with some indecision. Right after August's filing date, you might recall that there was a bit of a storm in the Gulf of Mexico, which destroyed his retirement home and the site of his chief investment. His wife's hometown was also destroyed and many of their family members are now FEMA's permanent guests. After months of ambilivance, his health problems have started anew and this committed public servant realized he could not serve the state he loves so much and continue to deal with all this stress. Rob Monroe is a friend with a proven record. Jesse Cornett is just starting out and is an unknown. If one has the good of the party in mind, it is not at all a stretch to think that Frank might hand select Rob Monroe. Believe it or not, some people think experience is a good thing.

    For privacy's sake, I won't go into specifics, but basically you're attacking a man for getting sick. This back-stabbing, venomous bullshit is why we lose, people. We're on the same side here. If Jesse wants to run in a safe seat for the Democrats rather than try to spread our influence outside the super-liberal Multnomah County, that's fine. But fight a fair fight. Attack him on his record, not some half-invented conspiracy theory about smokey back rooms.

    Jesse's running for office in my district, huh? Well, today he lost my vote.

  • Anne (unverified)

    Your good friend's name is "Rod" Monroe (not, ahem, Rob)

  • Duke Shepard (unverified)

    Democrats relentlessly defending the old guard and status quo are some of the reasons we lose, Allison. Having new ideas and fresh blood are not. Frank does have health issues. Those are unfortunate and I very much hope he recovers. And it's terrible that Frank's home in the south was nearly destroyed. It's fortunate that Rod has been able to provide a district residence for him for the past few years. But trying to keep the voters from having a choice is crap, and working to basically rig a primary is crap. If Frank wanted Rod to be his sucessor, he could have declared that he didn't want to run anytime in the last 5 months, endorsed Rod, and worked his butt off to elect him. Instead it was secrets deals and lying - not exactly admirable actions or qualities. If a Republican had done this, would your reaction be the same?
    As someone who's spent plenty of time knocking on doors for Frank, pounding lawnsigns, making phone calls, and defending him in the face of criticism over the years. When Jeff Merkley was talking about challenging him four years ago, I was one of VERY few people who urged him not to do it. I'm done defending Frank. The fact is you could list his legislative accomplishments on a post-it note.
    It's time to move on. And please spare me the tired logic that someone with "years of experience" is the only acceptable candidate. Rod's had his shots for 30 years. We need another recycled legislator from the 1970's like I need a hole in the head. Give Jesse a chance. He's running for the right reasons - because he can do a good job and represent the people of this district.

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    Allison, you write, Great guy Jesse may be, but he's a new comer with no legislative experience.

    Um, how much legislative experience does anyone have before they serve in the legislature? Before Frank was in the legislature, how much did he have?

    Yours is a silly statement, a tautology.

    You also argue that Jesse Cornett is just starting out and is an unknown. Not true. Jesse Cornett has been an aide to retired Senator Mark Hatfield, Congressman Earl Blumenauer and a legislative staffer to Secretary of State Bill Bradbury. (Aha! That legislative experience!) He's also been a co-founder of BlueOregon and the Oregon Bus Project (or does grassroots organizing not count?) He is also an Army and National Guard veteran, and a county reserve sheriff.

    basically you're attacking a man for getting sick.

    No, I'm not. I'm criticizing an otherwise good man for having the temerity to presume that he - and only he - has the right to choose his successor. Not the voters. Not the party. Not anyone but Frank.

    It is as clear as day that this was a conspiracy, and not a primary challenge (as "Rob" and Frank would have had us believe).

    After all, Frank Shields and Rod Monroe live in the same house (according to their public filing at the elections division.)

  • LT (unverified)

    As someone who knows both Rod Monroe and Jesse, let me say this.

    I don't know what happened. I do know sometimes people I have known for years/ decades are capable of doing dumb things.

    But what Allison said really bothers me.

    As our goals turn towards 2006 and a majority in the House, the last thing we need is to jeopardize D seats in the State Senate. It was in that effort that the Democratic leadership instructed each of the Democrat Senators to have a contingency plan should one of them not be able to continue his or her duties. As Frank actually inherited his seat from Rob, Frank thought it only fitting that he be his back up plan. Anyone who knows Frank knows that he's had some serious health difficulties in the past year.

    One of the abovementioned dumb things people sometimes do is to think inwardly and not about how the general public would see it. Example, did Kate Brown really believe "when we were in the negotiation room" was an appropriate phrase to use in a Portland City Club speech? Does she really not know there were those active Democrats who believe in doing the public's business in public who were saying Ferrioli was a pleasant surprise but Brown was a disappointment? Or making cracks like "Kate and Karen have different politics but share a love of closed door meetings"?

    The above bold quote illustrates what turns some people off politics--the attitude that the fix is in and the general public doesn't need to know certain things. Because after all this is really all about the D team defeating the R team and who wants the questions of those pesky people who vote but are not part of a "team" and think the public's business should be done in public?

    There was a time when the Democrats were the party of open meetings. When they were younger, Frank and Rod knew that.

    It is time to have this debate among all who want a common sense legislature--party, caucus, Bus Project, DFA/DFO, just ordinary activists who are not part of any organized group.

    Either things are done publicly or the fix is in. Do Democrats have the right to protest closed door decisions they are told to support, or if they don't like being ordered around should they just become Independent? If it was a leadership back room decision that each of the 18 Democrats should have a designated successor, was it also stated that the outside world should not know about that successor? Who specifically came up with this idea? Did all 18 agree to have a secret successor like this picked out? And if the member who filed had problems they wouldn't make that public in time for any challenger to file because the current Senators are the only ones with any chance? And besides, the constituents are just voters--why should they have a say in their choice of candidates?

    If all that is true, then it is time to have new leadership and a nonpartisan legislature.

    As it happens, I talked with a member of the Public Comm. on the Legislature in the grocery store this afternoon. One thing we discussed is how a nonpartisan legislature would solve problems like the caucus making decisions about who runs as if the voters of a district shouldn't have that choice.

    As I said, I have no idea what happened with Rod and Frank. But I happen to live in a district where a young man is running against a local icon of an older generation. And as has been said in many conversations recently, even local icons have to run for re-election like everyone else.

    I am tired of hearing "if one has the good of the party in mind, one will support ----- (Monroe, Kulongoski, whoever) without question".

    As the granddaughter of an anti-machine politician, and as a former party activist (national convention delegate, state, district and county central comm. member, active in the process of rewriting delegate selection rules--Section 1 of which was titled AN OPEN PARTY), if I am required to take orders and not ask any questions "for the good of the party" then why wouldn't I be smarter to register Indep. so I can think for myself?

    Or is independent thought subversive?

    Is Rod Monroe so sure he will lose that he is afraid of a young challenger? If he can't run on his long record, maybe he shouldn't be running. No one owns a seat in the legislature--they come up for re-election so the voters can decide if they merit re-election. If some members/ former members (or activists who support such secrecy) have forgotten that, perhaps they shouldn't be in the legislature.

  • aaron (unverified)

    Back room deals are what the REPUBLICANS are about. But that is not the focus of this post. However, Duke Shepard and Jesse Cornett are "very viable candidates" if they were approached and asked, from Senator Shields himself(or someone from the Senate Democratic Leadership Fund); if they were willing to step-up to the plate for this campaign cycle[as well, there are other D's in the district that could have stepped up--several School Board Members from David Douglas and the other school districts in the SD]. I am truly disappointed for the lack of commucinations and trust from the Senator to the various Democrats that have supported him, in the past, living in his district. That is why I am endorsing Jesse Cornett for State Senate District 24 here on BlueOregon, as the District Leader for HD 47 from the Multnomah County Democratic Party.

  • (Show?)

    If Jesse wants to run in a safe seat for the Democrats rather than try to spread our influence outside the super-liberal Multnomah County, that's fine.

    I thought that's what he's been doing for years through the Bus Project and his other political work. I didn't realize that in all those trips where we drove for hours that we were still in Multnomah County.

  • Randy Leonard (unverified)

    "As Frank actually inherited his seat from Rob, Frank thought it only fitting that he be his back up plan."

    Actually, I held that Senate seat before Frank Shields. The late Frank Roberts (former Governor Barbara Roberts husband) held it before I did going all the way back into the 70's.

    Rod Monroe actually served in a different Senate seat from Portland.

  • Hans "The Fridge" Huggler (unverified)

    As the kids say, "boo-yah". Jesse's long overdue in the legislature. I'll be projecting supporting vibes from the UK. Good luck Jesse.

  • (Show?)

    While Frank Shields has health and financial problems, I fully understand and sympathize with him. I agree it was pure stupidity to broker a back room deal to prevent anyone else from filing for an open seat by making it appear the Shields was still running.

    Then Allison has the gull to say he's being attacked. Simply not true, what people are saying is if the seat was going to be open, it should have been made known before the deadline.

    Maybe we have to make sure enough people file for an seat to avoid this apparent conflict of interest in the future.

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    The website right now displays very poorly in IE. The blue bar on the right hand side obscures your text.

  • (Show?)

    That's odd-- it displays fine in IE for me. Then again, Kari might be up working on it right now. I don't know how he fits sleep into his schedule...

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    To rest is not to conquer.

    -- ancient chinese saying, or maybe something just made up by my dad.

  • Grant Schott (unverified)

    I admire Jesse for running. Last week, no Democrat had filed against Charles Starr. A great Democratic activist from Wilsonville, Ray Cooper, urged me to file. I was flattered and considered running, but was releived when another Democrat, Rick Ross, filed. With the time and money committment, it's sometimes hard to figure out why anyone would run. Jesse took the leap and will give Democrats in his district the choice that they deserve. Jesse is a friendly, committed and experiecned true beleiver who looks you in the eye, not over your shoulder. I don't know much about Rod Monroe, but suspect that he might be an old school Democrat like Frank Ivancie. Jesse is more like Bud Clark, complete with the beard, well, goatee anyway.

  • Jesse O (unverified)

    Rod's record: taking back-room donations from developers during a vote that will benefit them. Asking for Oregonians In Action's endorsement. Not showing up to work.

    Yes, he has a record. Read his contribution and expenditure reports, and try to guess who he's likely to serve in the legislature.

  • LT (unverified)

    Thank you Jesse O Rod's record: taking back-room donations from developers during a vote that will benefit them. Asking for Oregonians In Action's endorsement. Not showing up to work.

    tells me this is not the same Rod Monroe I knew 20+ years ago.

    Sometimes people change for the better, sometimes not. If I lived in that district, OIA would be the last straw.

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    Your correct, it is a huge investment of time and money, but well worth it. I helped my (now ex) wife run for a city council position a few years ago.

    The "political buddy system" is about who you know and how they can get you elected. If you are an unknown, then your chances are pretty slim.

    All in all it was an interesting experience though.

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    For all those Jesse supporters:

    The Multnomah County Dems will be canvassing for Jesse on March 25th in a joint effort between his campaign and the county party.

    Details are forthcoming and will be posted at

    You can also sign up to come out and canvass with us at the above web address as well.

    I hope to see some of you there!

    -- Jenni Simonis Field Director Multnomah County Democratic Party


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