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House District 49: Game of chicken

Future PAC files elections complaint against Justin Hwang, Republican candidate for House District 49, for giving away teriyaki chicken at no cost.

JUSTIN HWANG CAMPAIGN FACEBOOK PAGE - Justin Hwange, serves up food at Fairview on the Green Sept. 10.Has the race for Oregon House District 49 in East Multnomah County become a game of chicken?

Future Political Action Committee filed an election complaint Thursday, Sept. 19, against Justin Hwang, the Republican nominee for Oregon House District 49 in Gresham.

Hwang, who owns the Joy Teriyaki chain of restaurants, is accused of tempting potential campaign donors to events with offers of chicken teriyaki bowls at no cost.

"Though giving away free chicken teriyaki bowls may seem trivial, giving people something of value for free to encourage them to support your campaign is a very serious matter," said House Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland.

(Please, imagine squawking chicken sound effects here.)

For context, Williamson represents House District 36, and unlike Hwang, has no direct skin, neither chicken nor human, in that particular race. Future PAC exists to support Democrats in their bid for election to the Oregon House of Representatives.

Hwang is up against Democratic incumbent Rep. Chris Gorsek of Troutdale who has held the House District 49 seat since 2013. Gorsek, a college instructor, is considerably disadvantaged in the race in terms of his capacity to dish up mass servings of chicken.

Teriyaki chicken, in particular, may have a particularly addictive grip on the psyche of many Oregonians. Apparently, teriyaki sauce is the most-googled recipe in Oregon, according to a blog on Food52 .

Jenn Baker of Future PAC filed the complaint with the Elections Division of the Oregon Secretary of State's Office. She asserts that Hwang's actions amount to a violation of state law that prohibits "undue influence" of voting by offering something of value.

"Candidates and campaigns are prohibited from providing refreshments at campaign events that constitute anything more than 'incidental,'" Baker wrote in the complaint. "Further, it prohibits giving something of value for no charge with the intent to influence how a person votes or other political activity."

Baker accused Hwang of breaking that rule on at least two occasions by holding events and advertising for those events with the promise of free food:

  • On Aug. 5., Hwang's campaign advertised for a "Community BBQ" in a post on its official website during which "complimentary chicken teriyaki bowls" would be served to guests.

    And here's a revelation: Hwang sells chicken teriyaki bowl at his Joy Teriyaki locations for $4.99. (We don't remember the last time we came across a menu item for less than $5 in Greater Portland.)

    On the day of the barbecue, Aug. 6, a post to his campaign's Facebook page stated: "We're here at the Fairview National Night Out (serving) chicken teriyaki bowls to everyone. Come say hi and grab some free food from all the wonderful donors."

  • On Sept. 8, Hwang set up vendor space at the Fairview on the Green event. A post on his campaign Facebook page said:

    "We will be there as a vendor, serving up some delicious teriyaki and great conversation. Come hang out!"

    In an email to the Oregon Capital Insider, Hwang suggested Future PAC took his activities out of context.

    "I'm saddened that my opponent's supporters would resort to filing a petty elections complaint against my campaign arising from my participation in a nonpolitical community event," he wrote. "As a proud immigrant to this country, I have worked hard to play by the rules and have always been thankful to be so warmly embraced by my fellow Americans.

    "Only since I decided to run for office have I experienced the ugliness the political system can produce. I look forward to answering any questions the Secretary of State may have for me and to putting this partisan accusation to rest as soon as possible."