Conservative Megadonor Endorses Candidates; Eugene Education Association Asks Rick Hamilton to Return Contributions
The Eugene School District 4J is the largest in Lane County and serves over 16,680 students.
Seven members make up the district board. This year four positions are up for grabs in the May Special Election. Seats one, four, five, and seven will be on the ballot.
School board positions are non-partisan and members are elected at large by the community but, this year, one candidate has accepted campaign contributions from a Republican megadonor with a track record of working against schools’ best interests.
Orestar records report that Jordan Papé, CEO of The Papé Group, made two contributions towards Rick Hamilton’s campaign totaling $10,000.
The Eugene Education Association, the local teacher’s union, released a statement on May 1, in response to these donations.
“As members of the Eugene labor community, we are disturbed to learn that one of the state’s biggest corporate donors – with a history of opposing both school funding and workers’ rights – has weighed into the Eugene 4J school board elections.”
According to their statement, Papé is one of the biggest Republican donors in Oregon. Additionally, the group spent “more than $1 million” trying to defeat Tina Kotek in the 2022 gubernatorial race.
In 2018, Papé spent $100,000 in support of a candidate for governor, Knute Buehler, who claimed to be an environmentalist but was too busy to speak with EW about the topic at that time and was predicted to “cut down trees, roll back land use laws, and ignore climate change” if elected.
Papé also spends a great deal of money with like-minded donors, such as Nike’s Phil Knight and former Oregon House Representative Phil Barnhart, lobbying for their corporate good. Papé, himself, is the chairman of Oregon’s largest corporate lobby, Oregon Business & Industry, which consistently works to deny critical rights for Oregon working families.
Through this lobby, Papé and friends have worked to deny overtime pay, reduce eligibility for paid family leave, cut unemployment insurance benefits, oppose universal health care, and, on top of all else, reduce school funding.
In recent years, Papé has been a co-chair of a statewide group opposing Measure 97 that would have increased school funding by $3 billion per year. It would have also imposed an additional tax on the state’s biggest corporations, including Nike and Papé. According to EEA’s statement, the group spent millions in advertising to defeat the measure.
“Papé got Wall Street Banks, WalMart and other corporate bigwigs to contribute a record-breaking $26 million to an advertising campaign that blocked this critical effort to fund our schools.”
The EEA said that “simply put, Papé is one of the people directly responsible for our schools being so dramatically underfunded and our classrooms so dramatically overcrowded.”
Papé’s campaign contributions, lobbying efforts, and corporate ties link the group arm-in-arm, or rather, hand-in-hand, to a network of local churches and organizations who share a like-minded mission.
This network prays together with one hope for different areas or “pillars” of the community. With one pillar focused on government and another on education, they pray to elect leaders they see as the “right fit” as public servants.
That network includes other Republican donors and political action committees such as former Mayor Jim Torrey, Kevin Alltucker, Stand for Children, and Kids First in Education — all of whom have donated to Hamilton’s campaign. Hamilton also has endorsements and donations from current 4J board members Judy Newman and Alicia Hays as well as Eugene city councilors Greg Evans and Randy Groves.
Currently, Papé has taken to advocating on social media for the candidates he sees as the right fit as a public servant on the 4J School Board: Michael Bratland, Morgan Munro, and of course, Hamilton. In comparison, Munro has received $1000 from Papé, while Bratland appears to not need the helping hand.
In an April 7 Eugene City Club Candidate forum, Hamilton said his campaign is centered on “respectful communication,” “transparency,” and making students “the number one priority.” In response to the informal endorsement made by We the People of Lane County Unite as previously reported by DSM, Hamilton released a “news update” on his website stating:
“Extremist groups have been using my name. I denounce this and was never consulted by them. I emphatically would never want to be endorsed by them.
My values are for protecting and supporting all children, including LGBTQ youth, and all marginalized children. I know that experience personally. I would never stand for vulnerable children being targeted.”
He believes that mental health is a big issue for students, especially for “marginalized children” and wants to reduce teen suicides, continue to push for more career track education programs, and to bring back school resource officers.
In a recent interview with the Register Guard, Hamilton told journalist Miranda Cyr, that “there’s some concern about school safety. Who (is) more (prepared) to address that issue than myself?”
“We’re wide open, just waiting for catastrophe to happen, so there needs to be some serious discussion,” he said.
Hamilton has lived in Oregon since 1979. He was a State Police Officer for 31 years. His wife, Linda, has served on the Lane Education Service District Board since 2015. Together, they have raised five children.
As reported by the Register Guard, one of his son’s died unexpectedly in February but that was all that was reported.
On Feb 8, Julius Hamilton was shot and killed by the Albany police. Oregon Public Broadcasting reported that he was suffering from a mental health crisis at the time of the shooting.
Officers were responding to a mental wellness check for a man reported to be suicidal. They reported that Hamilton’s son was armed when they arrived and pointed a handgun at the officers, prompting each to fire one round at Hamilton. He was 34 years old at the time of his killing, one month shy of his 35 birthday.
The Linn County District Attorney ruled the shooting as a “justified use of force.”
Though Hamilton was included in the “conservative slate” of candidates on social media, he, unlike the other three on that slate, has not been endorsed by the newly formed PAC, Kids 4 Success. This group was formed by two individuals tied to various alt-right events and groups throughout Eugene, Lane County, and the state at-large over the past few years, Ibra Taher and Julie Bivens.
Taher has been involved with the New Christian Right movement as a “political action director” for Free Oregon, which fronts as a non-profit but is not currently listed on the IRS charity navigator.
Recently FO has remained quite silent on social media, doing away with their live-streamed town halls. However, the group has been promoting sovereign citizenry to their followers and held a Springfield event on Feb. 25 with Ann Vandersteel to recruit people. And their “political action directors” have been very busy running attack and smear campaigns for positions on school boards in different locations throughout Oregon.
Kids 4 Success proudly endorses Bratland, Timothy Sean Sutherland, and Grant Johnson for the school board positions, along with candidates in other races throughout Lane County. Most recently, Taher organized a candidate forum in Cottage Grove.
That event ended with two men, posing as security at the request of Taher, escalating a disruption into a physical confrontation that required medical attention for one woman for injuries sustained.
In final response to the megadonor support from Papé the EEA said;
“We don’t assume that Rick Hamilton himself shares the views of these donors. We therefore call on Mr. Hamilton to return these contributions. Corporate donors who oppose fully funding our schools and work against the workplace rights of Oregon families should not be permitted to control the outcome of our elections.”
Rick Hamilton did not respond to a request for comment.
Let’s be honest here – the Eugene School system is a complete mess and it has been run by folks of the same ideology for a long time. Do we achieve the change we want by doubling down on the same failed ideas? It is a sign of maturity to be able to talk to people with differing viewpoints without making a straw-man of their ideas – I’m afraid the author fails that standard. I am in strong support of diversity – ideological diversity. Good luck Mr. Pape. For your kids and mine – I hope you are successful