Results: Paige Clarkson narrowly leads Spencer Todd for Marion County district attorney

  • In US
  • 2022-05-18 04:50:14Z
  • By Statesman Journal

This story will continue to be updated as more results come in. Because ballots could be mailed on Election Day starting this year, elections officials caution the winners may not be known for several days. Election offices expect vote counts after Tuesday to rise more than in past years due to valid ballots arriving at counting locations up to seven days after the election.

Initial results show incumbent Paige Clarkson leading opponent, Salem-area lawyer Spencer Todd, by a narrow margin for the Marion County District Attorney race, according to Marion County election data.

Initial returns at 8 p.m. show Clarkson with 54% of the votes; Todd with 46%.

The early results appeared on the county's elections report and were added to the Oregon Secretary of State's website around 9:30 p.m.

For the first time in at least 38 years, Marion County residents had two options on the ballot for the county's top attorney in Oregon's May 17 primary. And the nonpartisan race has become among the nastiest in the state.

Clarkson, 48, was appointed by Gov. Kate Brown when her predecessor, Walt Beglau, announced his retirement in 2018. She ran unopposed the same year and was elected into office in January 2019.

Todd, 33, announced his candidacy for the spot last fall.

If one of the two receives more than 50% of the votes, they will become the district attorney and will avoid a run-off in November.

More about the candidates:Paige Clarkson vs. Spencer Todd

Spencer Todd

Todd was born and raised in Salem and spent summers in high school working at the Marion County Courthouse. After graduating from South Salem High School, he followed in his parent's footsteps to become an attorney. He earned his law degree from Willamette University Law School in 2013. He currently lives in downtown Salem with his wife, Kari, who works for Nike.

Todd, who has worked as a public defender in Marion County for eight years, has shrugged off critics' comments about his experience. He says his current career will allow him to better handle the office of district attorney because he can anticipate defense lawyers' strategies.

Todd said he also brings a one-on-one client mentality to victims to help protect and advocate for them and have important conversations about their cases.

"As a DA, you're not the victim's lawyer, but you're the closest thing to the victim's lawyer because they're ... likely only ever going to have you answering their questions," he said.

In an interview last month, Todd told the Statesman Journal the District Attorney's Office is due for a makeover in how it handles some of its cases. While prison may be the answer to high-level crimes, Todd said, more funding should be devoted to helping offenders address their problems, including treatment for drug addiction and mental illness. This approach can help keep people from reoffending and keep the community safer.

"Not everybody is just a villain. Some people, if you give them a chance, are going to be back as productive members of society," Todd said. "We need to do a better job."

Paige Clarkson

Clarkson, who lives with her husband and four children in South Salem, said she has a vested interest in the safety and wellbeing of the community. She says her decision to run again is more than a desire to do her job - it's an obligation.

"If not me, then who?" she said. "I am the person who knows how to do this job and I'm not going to walk away from it now when things are hard."

Clarkson graduated from Willamette University College of Law in 1999 and has worked with the Marion County District Attorney's Office since 1997. Starting as a law clerk, she later became a line attorney, a senior deputy district attorney and a trial team leader for the drug team.

Clarkson said her two decades of experience as a prosecutor, as well as her tough-on-crime philosophy, is "trusted and tested and tried."

During her time in office, Clarkson said, she's prioritized tackling violent crimes - including those against children and women - and protecting the most vulnerable community members.

She said her office also prioritizes cases that are considered low-level offenses including property damage, burglaries and trespassing.

"What makes a community feel unsafe are those kinds of offenses," she said. "If I don't focus on that and I don't make those a priority for us to prosecute, those little things become big things."

Heated campaigning

Clarkson has been slammed by area attorneys for mailers late in the campaign that appeared to vilify defense attorneys.

One mailer had a picture of Todd and said, "You know a man by the company he keeps ... so why is Spencer Todd paling around with defense attorneys & convicted criminals?" It then goes on to list 11 local attorneys by name.

After local attorneys demanded an apology, Clarkson apologized to those who interpreted the mailer as an attack on the criminal defense community.

"I can see how they have viewed it that way. It was not intended that way. It was not intended personally and I regret how that's been interpreted. I do feel sorry that that is how folks have interpreted that," she said.

She added: "I think when you look at the two campaigns, one of us is supported by criminal defense attorneys - that is the primary list of his supporters - and one of us is not. And while I value the work that they do, and I think it is really important in our community, they do have a different (idea) of what it means to promote public safety in our community," Clarkson said.

Shortly after that, she sent out a second mailer. This one stated, "You have a choice ... Do you want an experienced District Attorney to keep you safe? Or one who is supported by criminals and those who want to defund the police?"

Todd told the Statesman Journal he's advocated for more police, as well as an increase in police funding.

"It went from implied attacks on our integrity to an outright lie," Todd wrote in a message to the Statesman.

The mailers prompted backlash and have caused a rift between Clarkson and members of the legal community. Last week, Oregon Justice Resource Center Executive Director Bobbin Singh resigned from the Chief Justice's Criminal Justice Advisory Committee, an advisory committee to help establish court roles, policies, processes and services in the state, because of Clark's continued inclusion in the group. Clarkson is listed as a member of the committee.

Paige Clarkson

  • Age: 48

  • Residence: Salem

  • Family: Husband, Jason Van Meter; four children

  • Occupation: Marion County District Attorney

  • Previous elected offices: Marion County District Attorney since 2019, first appointed in 2018

  • Campaign contributions: $175,847.50

  • Total for campaign: $40,882.32

Spencer Todd

  • Age: 33

  • Residence: Salem

  • Family: Wife, Kari

  • Occupation: Public defender.

  • Previous elected offices: None

  • Campaign contributions: $205,877.71

  • Total for campaign: $24,242.50

Virginia Barreda is the breaking news and public safety reporter for the Statesman Journal. She can be reached at 503-399-6657 or at Follow her on Twitter at @vbarreda2

This article originally appeared on Salem Statesman Journal: District attorney election results: Spencer Todd, Paige Clarkson


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