Oregon governor’s race: Independent candidate flips election, giving GOP an opening


Betsy Johnson is presenting herself as a candidate for Oregon governor who will speak to voters who are “fed up” with homeless encampments and trash-strewn streets and tired of seeing Republicans and Democrats “fighting like two cats in a sack.”

The former Democratic state senator, now running as an independent, likes to brag that she doesn’t campaign as “Miss Congeniality” and promises to rule from the center. Johnson says the policies of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tina Kotek – a former state House speaker who is appearing at a private fundraiser with President Joe Biden on Saturday – would leave the state “woke and broken,” calling Christine her Republican challenger. Drazan, a former state House minority leader, would put women’s reproductive rights at risk.

“Right now I’m a champion and a voice for people who are disrespected, disenfranchised, looked down upon and fed up,” the bespectacled former helicopter pilot said in a phone interview while Biden was on his way to the state this week. . “I have always been pro-choice, pro-police, pro-change, pro-responsibility and an alternative to the status quo. The situation didn’t give us a place, and the only people who were suffering were the Oregonians.’

The resonance of that message from a moderate former Democrat with deep financial support in Oregon’s business community has upended the state’s race for governor this year — unnerving Democrats and setting the stage for a Republican takeover for the first time in 40 years.

Two years after Portland experienced 100 nights of protests against police brutality and racial injustice – demonstrations that often turned violent – ​​the state’s largest city is still trying to repair its image. This recovery process was hampered by the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic which closed businesses. And adding to the Democrats’ challenge are the financial stresses many voters and business owners are feeling as a result of inflation. Portland also had a record number of homicides in 2021 and is dealing with a wave of gun violence that has raised concerns about crime.

The race between Johnson, Kotek and Drazan to replace term-limited Democratic Gov. Kate Brown was already unusual as a three-woman contest in what could be a record year for female gubernatorial hopefuls.

But Johnson was also able to pull off a rare feat for an independent candidate by keeping pace with major-party candidates in fundraising by leveraging his connections with business leaders. Nike founder Phil Knight gave $3.75 million to Johnson’s campaign before announcing earlier this month that he would switch his allegiance to Drazan.

Johnson’s presence in the race has been an unexpected boon for Republicans, who make up only a quarter of the electorate. Democrats make up about 34 percent of the state’s voters and unaffiliated Oregonians make up nearly 35 percent, according to the most recent data from the Oregon Secretary of State.

Jim Moore, a political science professor at Pacific University, said Johnson appears to be drawing more Democratic votes, creating a tie between Kotek and Drazan, a state Biden won by 16 points in 2020.

“Voters are increasingly happy with what the Democrats are doing, but they’re not willing to go to the Republicans who have moved to the right,” Moore said. This has resulted in Johnson being backed by a growing number of disaffected Democrats and unaffiliated voters in the state.

“There’s just a frustration that life in general seems to be getting harder and harder,” Moore added. “So many people have come to Oregon – or grew up here – and they say, ‘Yeah, I get paid less than other places, but the quality of life is amazing.’ And they are seeing that the quality of life is decreasing.”

Drazan, a social conservative and opponent of abortion rights, has also focused his message on the idea that the state needs more balance in government to address rising homelessness, housing affordability and the benefits students are experiencing as students. Due to the closure of schools during the pandemic. Drazan has also criticized easing some high school graduation requirements because he supports the parental rights bill, echoing the message of Republicans such as Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who will campaign with him in Oregon next week.

“We’ve had one-party control for a decade, and that means we’ve really, really failed to hold the legislature accountable, and the governor has failed to hold the legislature accountable,” he said. In a recent debate hosted by KOBI-TV and Southern Oregon University. “We need balance. We need common sense solutions that are sustainable, that work for the long term.”

Kotek countered that Drazan showed obstructionist tendencies when he held a legislative session in 2020 to protest a climate bill. Democrats have argued that Drazan’s move effectively killed legislation that would have advanced the state’s efforts to improve homelessness, among other things.

“Tina called for a homeless emergency nearly three years ago, but Rep. Christine Drazan literally left her job — blocking millions of dollars to build emergency homeless shelters and affordable housing,” Katie Wertheimer, Kotek’s director of communications, said in a statement.

“Oregonians are rightfully frustrated and want real solutions to homelessness, crime and the cost of living,” Wertheimer added. “Tina will do what Kate Brown couldn’t or wouldn’t, and she’ll finally declare a state of emergency and hire crews to clean up the trash. He is the only trusted leader in this race who presents real plans that will deliver results.”

Drazan defended his reason for leaving at the time, saying it was not the time for cap-and-trade policies “because we can’t prevent those costs from being prevented — not to big business, not to public services — but directly to Oregonians.”

“Homelessness, crime, affordability and education got dramatically worse during his time in power,” Drazan campaign spokesman John Burke said of Kotek. “Oregonians have had enough of his excuses and his empty agenda. That’s why they will elect Christine Drazan as their next governor.”