​​Secretary of State Shemia Fagan Resigns

Fagan’s resignation, effective May 8, follows revelations that she has been consulting for a major player in the cannabis industry.

Share this article!

Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan has announced her resignation, effective May 8.

A press release issued Tuesday morning said Deputy Secretary Cheryl Myers would take on oversight of the agency until the governor appoints a new secretary.

“While I am confident that the ethics investigation will show that I followed the state’s legal and ethical guidelines in trying to make ends meet for my family, it is clear that my actions have become a distraction from the important and critical work of the Secretary of State’s office,” Fagan said in the release. “Protecting our state’s democracy and ensuring faith in our elected leaders – these are the reasons I ran for this office. They are also the reasons I will be submitting my resignation today. I want to thank the incredible staff in the Secretary of State’s office for their hard work and Oregonians for the opportunity to serve them. It has been a true honor to serve the people of Oregon.”

“At this time, I believe it is in the best interest of our state for me to focus on my children, my family, and personal reflection so that the Secretary of State staff can continue to offer the exemplary customer service Oregonians deserve,” Fagan wrote.

Last week Fagan acknowledged that in February, she entered into an agreement to provide consulting services to the Veriede Holdings, an affiliate of the embattled La Mota dispensary chain. The contract, released to reporters Monday, said she was paid $10,000 per month — with a bonus of $30,000 for each license she helped La Mota obtain outside of Oregon and New Mexico. That’s more than the Secretary of State salary of $77,000 per year.

State law does not prohibit public officials from performing outside work, provided they don’t use their public position, public resources or insider knowledge to obtain the work.

On Friday, Oregon Business reported on an audit examining the state’s oversight of cannabis licensing. During a media availability Friday morning, state audits director Kip Memmott told reporters Fagan provided guidance on the scope and scale of the audit, but had no more input than that. After the audit’s release, reporters discovered public records showing that Fagan pressed auditors as early as January 2021 to speak to Rosa Cazares, the co-owner of La Mota, during its audit of the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission.

The audit report is critical of many aspects of Oregon’s approach to regulating cannabis. Notably, it says many of the state’s regulations are burdensome to businesses and are overly cautious regarding the possibility of federal intervention, which auditors wrote was unlikely, though cannabis is still federally illegal.

On Monday Fagan announced that she has terminated her contract with Veriede Holdings, and apologized, saying,” I exercised poor judgment by contracting with a company that is owned by my significant political donors and is regulated by an agency that was under audit by my Audits Division.”

Cazares and La Mota co-owner Aaron Mitchell have donated to several top Oregon Democrats’  — many of whom have pledged to give that money to charity — but the chain and its affiliates faced numerous tax liens and lawsuits alleging unpaid bills.

Minutes after Fagan’s release, Myers issued a second press release with a statement from the deputy secretary of state.

“This is a resilient agency, with strong division leadership and internal systems that can withstand change. We are ready to continue the important work of the Secretary of State’s office during this transition,” Myers said in the stament.

“My first priority is to make sure Oregonians receive the customer service they deserve. This agency does such critical work, and it’s our job to put Oregonians first during this transition. 

“This is an unfortunate situation, but a change of leadership will allow agency staff to continue their good work with less distraction moving forward,” Myers wrote.

Latest from Christen McCurdy