Knute Buehler, the 2018 Republican nominee for governor, endorsed Sen. Betsy Johnson, who is running an insurgent independent campaign for governor in 2022.
Johnson's campaign released a "dear friends" letter from Buehler to past supporters on Tuesday, Dec. 7.
"I am endorsing Betsy Johnson for governor," Buehler wrote. "Betsy's plain-spoken, independent spirit and proven record of putting the concerns of everyday Oregonians before partisan politics is exactly what Oregon needs right now."
The letter ends with a link to Johnson's campaign fundraising committee.
Buehler said the closed primaries of the Democratic and Republican parties would put candidates on the ballot who represented the most radical elements of their parties. "It is vital that we break the iron grip monopoly of the radical left on power, politics, and policy in our state," Buehler said of Democrats.
Republicans would likely nominate someone who Buehler believes would have little chance of appealing to most voters in Oregon, which has not elected a Republican as governor since 1982.
"Unfortunately, the Republican Party is no longer a viable alternative in Oregon," Buehler said.
Voting with Republicans
Johnson's Nov. 8 announcement that she would run as an independent after 21 years in the Legislature as a Democrat was met with disapproval by Democratic leaders.
Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, stripped her of her co-chairmanship of the powerful Ways & Means Committee, the state's main budget-writing panel. Johnson remains a registered Democrat and retains her seat in the Senate.
Johnson has consistently been the most moderate of Democrats in the Senate. While backing most of her party's social issue stances, including support for abortion rights, she has voted with Republicans on issues such as business restrictions, gun rights and limiting carbon emissions.
The Democratic and Republican nominees will be selected in the May 17 primary. Johnson then has to submit more than 24,000 valid signatures backing her candidacy to the secretary of state during the early summer to go directly on the Nov. 8 general election.
Buehler brings a long list of major donors to Johnson's campaign, which is already leads fundraising for 2021, with $2.1 million in contributions, including several $100,000 contributions from the timber industry and business owners. She has $2.3 million in the bank.
The biggest question is whether Buehler's endorsement will bring in contributions from Nike's Phil Knight, who has not expressed a preference in the 2022 race. Knight was a major backer of Buehler.
The top Democratic fundraisers so far have been former New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, state Treasurer Tobias Read and House Speaker Tina Kotek. Among Republicans, 2016 GOP governor nominee Bud Pierce has reported more than $767,000 in contributions, with about half self-financed. Sandy Mayor Stan Pulliam has raised $575,000 and longtime GOP consultant Bridget Barton of Portland has received more than $491,000.
The latest entry in the GOP race, Rep. Christine Drazan, R-Canby, has raised more than $204,000, including money rolled over from her House campaign committee. She recently stepped down as House minority leader to concentrate on planning a formal campaign announcement early next year. She will retain her House seat.
Return to independence
Johnson, 70, a Scappoose resident, was elected to the House in 2000 as a Democrat and has represented districts on the southern and northern coasts of Oregon. She was appointed to the Senate in 2015 and has won election to six four-year terms.
She was last re-elected in 2018, with 82% of the vote and has not faced a Republican opponent since 2016.
Johnson was born in Bend and is the daughter of the late Sam Johnson, a successful timber businessman who served in the House and later as mayor of Redmond as a Republican.
Johnson ran a successful aviation business and served as manager of the Aeronautics Division of the Oregon Department of Transportation before entering politics.
The endorsement is a return to Buehler's oldest political stance, when he worked as the chief Oregon organizer for independent Ross Perot's 1992 campaign for president. Buehler ran as a Republican for secretary of state in 2012, losing the general election to the incumbent, Democrat Kate Brown. Brown became governor in early 2015 following the resignation of Gov. John Kitzhaber in an influence peddling scandal.
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