Democrats say Buehler is ineligible for his House seat
PORTLAND — The Democratic of Party of Oregon is claiming that the GOP nominee for governor no longer lives in the district he represents in the Oregon House, in what they argue is a violation of the state's Constitution.
State Rep. Knute Buehler, an orthopedic surgeon, was elected to represent House District 54, which spans the core area of Bend, in 2014. He won the GOP nomination in May and is facing incumbent Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, in the November general election.
The Democratic Party alleges Buehler has moved to Tualatin and is no longer eligible to serve as a state representative for the Bend area.
The Buehler campaign dismissed the allegations as "a nonsense, desperate attack from a campaign that cannot defend Kate Brown's record of failed leadership."
The Democratic Party of Oregon points to two press interviews with Buehler — one with a sports reporter at The Portland Tribune and another with Mark Mason of 1190 KEX in Portland — as evidence that Buehler has moved to Tualatin.
In the interview with Mason, Buehler confirms Mason's sign-off description of the candidate as "Knute Buehler, of Tualatin now."
Then Buehler responds, "Of Tualatin now, yeah, just down the street." Mason then says, "No longer Bend." And Buehler says "Yeah, and soon to be resident of Salem."
"The evidence for this is in his own words," said DPO chair Jeanne Atkins.
Atkins pointed to Article IV, Section 8 of the state's Constitution, which states that "A person may not be a Senator or Representative if the person at all times during the term of office of the person as a Senator or Representative is not an inhabitant of the district from which the Senator or Representative may be chosen or which the Senator or Representative has been appointed to represent."
Atkins said the constituents of the district no longer had someone to represent them, and that the Democratic Party of Oregon wants the Secretary of State, which houses the state elections division, to investigate.
"Bottom line, political ambition has trumped his commitment to his current constituents," Atkins said.
The Secretary of State's Office is processing the complaint, according to the secretary's Chief of Staff Deb Royal.
The Buehler campaign says the Republican nominee has an apartment in Tualatin, but says his primary residence remains in Bend and that's where his wife, Patty, spends most of her time.
It is also where the Buehlers are registered to vote, their cars are registered and where they pay property taxes, the campaign says.
They say the Tualatin residence is a place for Buehler to "sleep, shower and snack while he is campaigning vigorously nearly every week in the Portland-area and Willamette Valley."
Asked how many days per week or month Buehler spends in Tualatin instead of Bend, spokeswoman Monica Wroblewski said "he spends as much time as he can in Bend."
"We were just there all last week," Wroblewski wrote in an email to the EO/Pamplin Capital Bureau. "Bend is his home."
Buehler unveiled his health care plan during a press conference in Bend on Wednesday, July 18 and attended the convention of the Oregon Newspaper Publishers' Association on Friday, July 20.
Advocating for the state's rural communities and industries is a key part of his platform, Buehler said at the ONPA event last week.
Asked why, then, his campaign headquarters are in the Portland suburbs, Wroblewski said it allows the campaign to have a presence both east and west of the Cascades.
"The location for the campaign headquarters was chosen so that we would have a presence on the east and west sides of the state," Wroblewski said. "As the campaign progresses, we will have a presence throughout the state and in multiple locations."
Oregon has a "citizen legislature" that meets for roughly five months in odd-numbered years and for a month in even-numbered years.
State lawmakers from further-flung parts of the state often rent apartments in Salem during the session. But Article IV, Section 8 also states that a "person does not lose status as an inhabitant of a district if the person is absent from the district for purposes of business of the Legislative Assembly."
"This is different, because Buehler has said, on more than one occasion, that he has moved to Tualatin," a spokeswoman for the DPO, Molly Woon, wrote in an email Tuesday. "Not temporarily and not to fulfill his legislative duties. He's actually left his district and moved to Tualatin. This leaves the constituents of HD 54 without representation, even though Buehler continues to receive a state paycheck."
Asked to respond Tuesday to potential criticism that this could be perceived as an "election-year stunt," Atkins again referred to the constitution.
"I would ask you to read very clearly the state Constitution," Atkins said. "And we have asked the Secretary of State to examine whether or not his residency has been maintained, as required by the state Constitution. That's the bottom line here."
The election is Nov. 6.