Multnomah County DA Race Heats Up as Incumbent Schmidt Faces Challenger Vasquez

Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt faces re-election challenge from senior prosecutor Nathan Vasquez, with contrasting views on prosecution rates and Measure 110. The May 21 primary election will determine the direction of the county's criminal justice system.

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Mahnoor Jehangir
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Multnomah County DA Race Heats Up as Incumbent Schmidt Faces Challenger Vasquez

Multnomah County DA Race Heats Up as Incumbent Schmidt Faces Challenger Vasquez

The race for Multnomah County District Attorney is intensifying with the May 21, 2024 primary election approaching. Incumbent Mike Schmidt, who won by a landslide four years ago on a platform ofreforming the justice system, now faces a formidable re-election challenge from Nathan Vasquez, a senior prosecutor in the DA's office with 23 years of experience.

Why this matters: The outcome of this election will have a significant impact on the direction of Multnomah County's criminal justice system, influencing policies on prosecution rates, drug laws, and community safety. The winner will shape the county's response to pressing issues like the fentanyl crisis, public defender shortage, and rising crime rates, affecting the lives of thousands of residents.

Schmidt and Vasquez hold contrasting views on Portland's challenges, prosecution rates, and Measure 110. Vasquez attributes the city's decline to Schmidt, stating, "Our community has become unrecognizable and unsafe, and it's compelled me to take on this role because what we need is a professional prosecutor and not a politician running that office." Schmidt counters this claim, highlighting increased prosecution rates that have reached 7- and 8-year highs. However, data reveals that Multnomah County is filing charges in fewer cases compared to pre-pandemic levels, with a drop from nearly 13,000 in 2018 to just over 8,000 in 2023.

Both candidates express support for the changes to Measure 110, which recriminalize street drugs. While Vasquez believes the modifications will result in more individuals being jailed for drug dealing, Schmidt emphasizes the importance of connecting people to treatment. Schmidt actively lobbied the Oregon legislature to amend Measure 110 and secured $25 million in funding for a detox drop-off center.

Vasquez highlights his experience as Multnomah County's lead prosecutor, having handled high-profile felony cases. Schmidt responds,"This is not a trial position. I've run a state agency, managed budgets, HR, and grown these things. That's the kind of experience that matters in this job, and that's why I'm running again."

Vasquez also alleges that Schmidt has fostered a hostile work environment, pointing to the departure of 50 attorneys from the office. Schmidt attributes the low morale to the pandemic and high caseloads. He highlights his accomplishments in office, which include increasing the number of prosecutors by more than 20%, more than doubling the number of investigators, and successfully operating the state's largest prosecutor's office during challenging times, such as during the pandemic, the fentanyl crisis, and the public defender shortage.

The Multnomah County District Attorney's Office, with its 260 employees and $50 million budget, plays a vital role in the county's criminal justice system. The district attorney, the county's top law enforcement official, oversees nearly 100 prosecutors and filed charges in approximately 8,000 criminal cases last year. The position carries a salary of about $263,000.

The election nearing, voters will have the opportunity to watch, debate, hosted between the two candidates, hosted by The Oregonian/OregonLive and KGW on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. Multnomah County mailed out ballots on Wednesday, and voters must either mail them with a postmark no later than election day, May 21, or drop them in an official ballot box by 8 p.m. on May 21. Multnomah County mailed out ballots on Wednesday, and voters must either mail them with a postmark no later than election day, May 21, or drop them in an official ballot box by 8 p.m. on May 21.

The outcome of this closely contested race will significantly shape the direction of Multnomah County's criminal justice system in the coming years. Voters must weigh the candidates' contrasting visions and decide whether to maintain Schmidt's reform-oriented approach or opt for a change in leadership with Vasquez's emphasis on traditional prosecution. As Schmidt notes, "This is not a trial position," underscoring the importance of the district attorney's role in managing the office, budgets, and personnel, beyond simply trying cases.

Key Takeaways

  • Incumbent DA Mike Schmidt faces re-election challenge from Nathan Vasquez in Multnomah County.
  • Election outcome will impact prosecution rates, drug laws, and community safety in the county.
  • Schmidt and Vasquez hold contrasting views on Portland's challenges and Measure 110.
  • Vasquez criticizes Schmidt's leadership, while Schmidt highlights his experience and accomplishments.
  • Voters will decide between Schmidt's reform-oriented approach and Vasquez's traditional prosecution focus.