During their first general election debate in the race for who will become the next governor of Oregon, Republican nominee Christine Drazan, Democratic nominee Tina Kotek and unaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson empathized with many Oregonians dissatisfied with where the state is headed.
Each of the three women, however, offered differing solutions to the state's myriad issues in a 90-minute forum that underscored the chasms among their political philosophies and leadership styles.
The three candidates — who are running neck-and-neck in recent polls — shared the stage in an event sponsored by the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association at the Mt. Hood Oregon Resort in Welches on Friday, July 29.
The debate was moderated by Pamplin Media Group President Mark Garber and included questions from local journalists, as well as the opportunity for the candidates to confront one another with their own inquiries.
Drazan, a Canby resident and former Oregon House of Representatives minority leader who won the Republican nomination, made clear that she views her opponents as leaders of an establishment that has brought Oregon to where it is today, and that the state needs new solutions to chronic problems such as homelessness, a lack of housing and mental health services, and economic insecurity.
"It's a little bit ironic to me to constantly hear my opponents on the stage be (aghast) on how horrible Oregon is on this and that and the other — 'We're 50th (in the country) on this and we have to work on that,'" Drazan said. "They've been in charge. We got here because of their voices. There are not two other people in the state with more power than them besides the governor herself and maybe the Senate president."
Johnson, a Scappoose resident who was a former state senator and Democrat before switching to run as an unaffiliated candidate, emphasized that she represents a middle ground between what she described as extremes on her political right and left, noting Drazan's pro-life stance on abortion and suggesting that Kotek is part of a progressive left that is responsible for mounting problems.
"Oregonians are distrustful of the radical right and they are terrified of the progressive left. … What could be more different and impactful than a governor with an allegiance only to Oregonians and not to a party agenda or special interests?" she said.
Kotek, a Portlander who was the speaker of the house for nine years prior to winning the Democratic nomination, framed herself as a candidate who seeks solutions rather than simply rejecting the status quo.
"No matter what the other candidates say today, there are no quick fixes," she said. "There are no miracle cures to take on these large challenges. Only hard work is going to allow us to ensure that every part of our state can thrive."
On the issues, Drazan clarified that she considers Joe Biden to be the fairly elected president of the United States — despite efforts from members of her party to sow distrust in the 2020 election results — while also stating that she would maintain the current gun and abortion laws in place in Oregon and expressing opposition to Gov. Kate Brown's executive order directing state agencies to reduce carbon emissions.
Regarding her and her colleagues' decision in 2020 to walk out of the Capitol to combat Democrats' cap-and-trade proposal while she was the House minority leader, Drazan said she may have supported some form of policy incentivizing businesses to reduce emissions — but not in the form proposed by Democrats.
"The need to lead a Republican effort to deny quorum on this was simply because of the intensity of single-party majority control," she said.
Drazan also said she felt the state was focusing too much on housing to address the homelessness crisis, and not enough on other issues like treating addiction and mental health.
Kotek described the walkout as a decision to throw in the towel on the issue of addressing climate change and expressed support for the governor's executive order.
Further, she was the only candidate to firmly say she would direct public resources to helping people living in states where abortion is illegal to access that service here. Johnson also emphasized her staunch pro-choice stance on abortion, but felt organizations like Planned Parenthood could support people arriving from other states without governmental funding.
"We are in too big of a moment in our country to say no to women who need access to care," Kotek said. "And I'm the only person in this race who is a champion on this issue, who has believed in access to health care — and that is what abortion is — and that's why I'm backed by Planned Parenthood and Pro Choice Oregon."
Drazan, meanwhile, said she is pro-life but that her responsibility as governor would be to uphold the laws in place.
Unlike Drazan and Johnson, Kotek said she supports IP17 — a ballot measure that would require background checks for purchasing firearms, prohibit the sale of large-capacity magazines (except for military and law enforcement) — and established herself as the candidate in support of gun control measures. She clarified that she's not interested in "taking people's guns away," however, after a quip from Johnson suggesting that intention.
Johnson, meanwhile, castigated Gov. Kate Brown and state leadership after Intel — the state's largest employer — decided to build a new chip manufacturing facility in Ohio rather than Oregon, saying that she had talked with Intel executives who said state leadership was not receptive to their needs and that she would make sure she consulted regularly with major industry players.
Further, Johnson addressed her decision to vote for the corporate activity tax to add school funding even though she now is against it, saying that she felt schools needed more money at the time, but now believes the tax is too big of a burden on businesses and should be altered.
Similar to Drazan, Johnson felt that Kotek's leadership has led to there being "tent cities all over Portland."
"This is a humanitarian crisis and we must never lose sight of the fact that it's inexorably tied to drugs and mental illness in our streets," Johnson said.
In closing remarks, Drazan commented on what she felt was a divisive attitude exuded by Johnson, saying she was tired of being yelled at and adding that she felt Johnson left the Democratic Party when it was politically convenient to do so.
Johnson said choosing Drazan would be moving from one extreme to the other and told voters she does not care whether Oregonians voted for Biden or Donald Trump.
"I want to recapture the maverick spirit and get us back on track," Johnson said.
Kotek, in her final remarks, talked about how she fell in love with Oregon when she moved to the Beaver State 35 years ago and that she views it as a state of possibility toward what it could become.
"I am sure I know how to work with people and solve problems because I have a track record to show that," she added.
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