Troy Shin | Portland Tribune | August 2022

Vial, who lives in Scholls, served one term as a Republican in the Oregon House.

Former House District 26 representative and deputy secretary of state Rich Vial is mounting an unaffiliated bid for the Oregon Senate this year.

The Scholls resident is running for a brand-new seat that covers Aloha, parts of Hillsboro and Beaverton, and a swath of rural Washington County.

Senate District 18 is currently represented by Portland Democrat Akasha Lawrence Spence, who was appointed to the position last year after Ginny Burdick resigned to accept a job offer.

However, the current district shares no commonality with the district that Vial is seeking, as the Senate map was completely reconfigured in last year’s redistricting. Lawrence Spence does not live in the new version of SD 18.

Democrats nominated freshman Rep. Wlnsvey Campos of Aloha. Republicans nominated political newcomer Kimberly Rice.

By partisanship, the district strongly favors Democrats, although Vial’s entry is an X-factor.

Vial argues that having a third option is important for Oregonians who are tired of the polarization of two-party politics.

“I’m convinced both nationally and in Oregon that our struggles arise mostly out of the fact that both parties have a need to maintain polarity,” said Vial, who had a reputation as a moderate during his term in the Legislature from 2017 to 2019. “I’m looking to try and change that culture.”

As someone who has experience in the Legislature already, both as a representative and as deputy secretary of state from 2019 to 2020, Vial said that the way to get things done for all voters is to shed party affiliations entirely.

“Unless you are a leader in the majority in the Legislature, you just don’t really have a voice, to be honest with you,” he said.

Vial was previously elected as a Republican, though he pushed back on the notion that his unaffiliated run is just an attempt to get Republican values in the district represented at the Capitol.

He said he lost the support of his own Republican leadership following a vote on gun legislation where he voted with the Democratic majority to close the so-called “boyfriend loophole,” making it harder for convicted domestic abusers to obtain a gun in Oregon.

“Is the leadership of the Democratic Party going to accuse me of being a Republican in sheep’s clothing?” Vial said. “Probably, but it’s not true. … I don’t believe that the Republican Party is a good representative of the people to bring us to together as a society. I don’t believe the Democrats are doing much better, but I certainly am not a Republican in sheep’s clothing.”

Vial previously attempted to gather enough support to appear on the ballot in 2020 as an unaffiliated candidate for secretary of state, but he fell short of his goal.

He compared his unaffiliated run for Senate to that of former Sen. Betsy Johnson, who is mounting a non-affiliated campaign for governor.

Vial said he was close to Johnson during his time in Salem, and he agrees with her stance that Oregonians are ready for someone who isn’t a Democrat or Republican in the governor’s mansion.

“I believe if Betsy (and I) are elected together, we could potentially convince enough of our colleagues to change the rules to something more akin to what’s happening in Nebraska, for example,” Vial said.

In the Nebraska Legislature, no elected officials have an official party affiliation, and no party identification appears next to their name on the ballot.

Vial said his anti-partisan message has been well-received by both Democrats and Republicans he’s talked to in the district, allowing him to gather the required signatures to appear on the Nov. 8 ballot.

“That’s another reason I think people are sick of the partisanship,” Vial said. “It intrudes on their desire to elect good leaders independent of whether they are loyal to one side or the other. People just want someone who will be honest with them and go represent them by listening to all sides.”