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Republican Will Lathrop betting on voter unease with crime, drugs in Oregon attorney general race


Republican Will Lathrop betting on voter unease with crime, drugs in Oregon attorney general race

Sep 25, 2023 | 9:30 am ET
By Julia Shumway
Republican Will Lathrop betting on voter unease with crime, drugs in Oregon attorney general race
Republican Will Lathrop is running for attorney general. (Lathrop campaign)

A Republican Newberg attorney who spent most of the past decade fighting human trafficking in Africa is running for attorney general, counting on voters’ dissatisfaction with crime, drugs and homelessness to help him win a position his party hasn’t held for decades. 

Will Lathrop, 45, is the first major candidate in a wide-open race for attorney general. The current attorney general, Ellen Rosenblum, announced Tuesday she wouldn’t seek reelection. No Democrats have yet confirmed they’ll run, though House Speaker Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis, is widely rumored to be considering a bid. 

Republicans haven’t won statewide in Oregon since 2016, when Dennis Richardson was elected secretary of state. It’s been more than three decades since the last Republican elected attorney general, Dave Frohnmayer, won his 1988 reelection campaign.

But Lathrop said he isn’t cowed by that electoral history.

“Everywhere I go, I’ll talk to anybody who will talk to me,  left, right or center, and everybody says the same thing,” he said. “They’re frustrated with crime, they’re frustrated with homelessness, they’re tired of public corruption and they’re worried about addiction for their families and for communities and their friends.”

Recent polling from Portland-based DHM Research supports those claims. In August, 45% of Oregonians polled listed homelessness as the most important problem facing the state, while 14% listed drugs and 12% listed crime. An April survey found that more than 60% of respondents believed Measure 110, a 2020 voter-approved law that decriminalized possession of small amounts of drugs, has made crime, drug addiction and homelessness worse in Oregon. 

A coalition funded by prominent Oregon business owners is pushing changes to Measure 110, including making it a misdemeanor to possess fentanyl, meth and heroin and requiring, rather than merely encouraging, addiction treatment.

Lathrop said he supports making drug possession a crime again, while maintaining the treatment programs and funding set up by Measure 110. 

“We’ve got a real addiction problem, and we’re going to need those treatment resources no matter what happens with organized crime,” he said. “We’ve got to get people out of addiction, and that’s going to take resources. I’m very much in favor of investing heavily into the treatment programs across the state.” 

Lathrop  grew up in Wallowa County and received his law degree from Willamette University. He was a prosecutor in Yamhill and Marion counties, specializing in prosecuting crimes against children.

He moved to Washington, D.C., to work for the National District Attorneys Association, then took a job with the International Justice Mission, a nongovernmental Christian organization that focuses on human rights in developing nations. 

Lathrop and his family still considered Oregon home, and they moved back full-time earlier this year. They visited frequently during the years he worked in Africa.

“Just watching the frame-by-frame decay of law and order and governance in Oregon has been quite shocking,” he said. “It’s on the top of everybody’s mind. Crime, addiction, homelessness are all critical issues to almost every community, rural and urban, and there doesn’t seem to be people who have a lot of answers for it.”

Lathrop has raised close to $200,000 for his campaign since beginning fundraising last year, according to campaign finance records filed with the Oregon Secretary of State. 

His largest donor is Dick Withnell, a Salem-area philanthropist and retired car salesman, who gave $25,000. Lathrop also reported receiving $20,000 from the president of a St. Louis insurance company and $15,000 from a property management company in Keizer. His wife, Arminda, a vice president at George Fox University, contributed $12,000 to the campaign.