New Portland Attorney General Nathan Vasquez aims to eradicate county's progressive policies

Mike Schmidt will no longer hold the position after a term marked by his support for drug decriminalization and leniency for minor crimes.

"I am committed to ending open air drug dealing and drug use," said Nathan Vasquez, elected attorney general of Oregon's Multnomah County. His path to achieving that goal: ending the progressive policies of his predecessor, Mike Schmidt.

With two decades of career as a prosecutor behind him and the support of several police groups, Vasquez managed to convince more than 50% of the electorate in Tuesday's non-partisan elections that it was time to turn towards a tougher policy on crime.

Vasquez, who will assume his new role on Jan. 1, specifically promised to target fentanyl and hard drugs. He also pledged to "[help] connect individuals to treatment" and "[ensure] that victims are the number one priority of my office."

Less than a week before the election, county health authorities released an unpublished report that put numbers to the crisis: 868 people died from fentanyl overdoses in the last six years. While in 2019, an average of two people died per month, last year, it was more than one per day.

Schmidt will thus leave the attorney general's office after a single term, marked by his policy of leniency with minor crimes. Vasquez criticized his still-boss during the campaign for not having prosecuted protesters who had committed minor offenses during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests. He also criticized his support for drug decriminalization, which Gov. Tina Kotek repealed earlier this year.

Despite his attacks on progressive measures, Vasquez denied on numerous occasions that his victory was evidence that American voters are disenchanted with the progressive agenda. Rather, he interprets the electorate's turn as a search for better local solutions to a local problem.

In an interview published this Thursday, Vasquez maintained that he would prosecute more crimes than his predecessor and that he would do so in a more "effective and efficient" manner. "It really comes down to being compassionate but also holding people accountable," he said in conversation with local media KATU.

He also assured that the current system seeks to avoid deaths due to overdose (albeit unsuccessfully), but does not offer a way out of addiction.

"I would love to say that, you know, in the first year of my tenure that we're going to see that change, but I think it's going to take a while."

The Portland challenge

Vasquez now faces the challenge of turning the fate of Portland. The viral images of addicts and homeless people in the streets, the closure of stores due to crime and the record numbers of homicides have turned the city into a symbol of the drug and crime crisis nationwide.

According to the county's recent health report, the majority of overdose deaths happened in Portland, specifically in the Old Town and Pearl neighborhoods.