Betsy Johnson proposes herself as a runner-up for Oregon governor who will speak for voters who are “fed up” with homeless camps and rubbish littered streets and tired of watching Republicans and Democrats “fight like two cats in a sack.”
The former Democratic state senator, now running as an independent, likes to brag about not campaigning as “Miss Congeniality” and promises to rule from the center. Johnson argues that the policies of Democratic governor candidate Tina Kotek – the former State House speaker who appeared at a private fundraising reception with President Joe Biden on Saturday – would leave the state “awakened and broken”, while claiming that her Republican opponent, Christine Drazan, a former minority leader in the State Assembly, would endanger women’s reproductive rights.
“I am the champion and the voice at this moment of people who feel disrespected, deprived of civil rights, look down on and are fed up with it,” the former bespectacled helicopter pilot said in a telephone interview. earlier this week, before Biden’s arrival in the state. “I’ve always been pro-choice, pro-cop, pro-change, pro-responsibility and pro-alternative to the status quo. The status quo was taking us nowhere and the only people who were suffering were the Oregonians. ”
The resonance of that message from a former moderate Democrat with deep financial backing in the Oregon business community has disrupted the state’s race for governor this year, unnerving the Democrats by creating a scenario in which Republicans could take office for. the first time in 40 years.
Two years after Portland experienced 100 nights of protests against police brutality and racial injustice – rallies that often led to violence – the state’s largest city is still trying to repair its image. That recovery process was hampered by the economic fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic which led to the closure of the activities. And the challenge for the Democrats has been compounded by the financial stressors many voters and business leaders now feel due to inflation. Portland also recorded a record number of murders in 2021 and is grappling with a wave of gun violence that has raised concerns about crime.
The race between Johnson, Kotek and Drazan to replace Democratic limited-term governor Kate Brown was already unusual as a three-woman meeting in what could be a record year for aspiring female governors.
But Johnson was also able to accomplish a rare feat for an independent candidate by keeping pace in fundraising with major party candidates by drawing on her relationships with business leaders. Nike co-founder Phil Knight donated $ 3.75 million to Johnson’s campaign before switching his allegiance to Drazan for a $ 1 million grant earlier this month.
Johnson’s presence in the race was an unexpected plus for Republicans, who make up only about 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 stealing more votes from the Democrats, creating what is essentially a tie between Kotek and Drazan in a state that Biden won by 16 points in 2020.
“Voters are becoming increasingly unhappy with what the Democrats are doing, but they are not willing to go to the Republicans who have gone further to the right,” Moore said. This has led to Johnson being supported among the disaffected Democrats and the growing ranks of unaffiliated voters in the state.
“There is just one frustration that life on the whole seems to get more difficult,” Moore added. “So many people have come to Oregon – or grew up here – and say, ‘Yes, 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 the right to abortion, also centered her message on the idea that the state needs more balance in government as it attempts to tackle rising homelessness, affordability of housing and gaps. performance that students face as a result of school closures during the pandemic. Drazan has also criticized the easing of some high school graduation requirements while upholding a charter of parental rights, echoing the message from Republicans, such as Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, who will campaign with her in Oregon next year. week.
“We’ve had control of the single party for a decade, which means we really, really couldn’t get the governor to answer, and similarly we had the governor who didn’t take the legislature into account,” he said. said during a recent debate conducted by KOBI-TV and Southern Oregon University. “We need balance. We need common sense solutions that are durable, with long-term value. ”
At a Portland fundraiser for Kotek on Saturday, Biden highlighted Drazan’s opposition to the right to abortion and also warned against “MAGA Republicans” and “election deniers” running in races across the country. She invoked the name of former President Donald Trump while criticizing his influence on state legislatures.
“As long as Trump controls the Republican Party, he will have an incredible impact on state legislatures” and the state government, Biden said. “You are a progressive state, you have always been at the forefront. He remains at the head of the curve and elects Tina ”.
Kotek said Drazan demonstrated obstructive tendencies when he led a legislative strike in 2020 to protest a climate bill. The Democrat argued that Drazan’s move effectively killed legislation that would have promoted the state’s efforts to improve homelessness, among other issues.
“Tina called for a state of emergency for homeless people nearly three years ago, but Rep Christine Drazan literally quit her job, freezing millions of dollars for emergency homeless shelters and building affordable housing,” said Katie Wertheimer. communications director of Kotek.
“Oregonians are rightfully frustrated and want real solutions to homelessness, crime and the cost of living,” added Wertheimer. “Tina will do what Kate Brown couldn’t or didn’t want, and she’ll eventually declare a state of emergency and she’ll hire teams to clean up the trash. She is the only trusted leader in this race who carries out real plans that will produce results. ”
Drazan defended the logic of the strike at the time, saying it was not the time for cap-and-trade policies “because we cannot prevent these costs from being passed on – not to large corporations, not to utilities – but only in straight line to the Oregonians.
“Homelessness, crime, affordability and education all worsened dramatically during his time in power,” Drazan campaign spokesman John Burke said of Kotek. “The Oregonians have had enough of his apology and his failed program. That’s why they will elect Christine Drazan as their next governor. ”