In race to be Oregon governor, Democrats get first contender
The first Democrat to announce his candidacy for Oregon governor has emerged: Yamhill County commissioner Casey Kulla.
A farmer in Yamhill County since 2006 and member of the Board of Commissioners since 2018, Kulla is seeking the governor's office in 2022 with an overarching goal of bridging the widening divide between Oregonians.
Kulla enters the race with the blessing of his wife and farming partner, Katie, and their two kids: 11-year-old Rusty and 8-year-old Dottie. The decision to run came after a number of conversations behind the scenes with friends, family and constituents.
"I've been talking to people about what it takes and what a team looks like for a run," Kulla said. "I very much feel like there's a right time to do things and I feel like this was the right time for me. I felt like the state needed someone with my knowledge, background and viewpoint."
Kulla, who has only held elected office since joining the county commission in 2018, said he was primarily inspired to run due to the violent events at the state Capitol in Salem and federal Capitol in Washington, D.C. He hopes to play a role in healing the wounds of division should he be elected governor and find common solutions to common problems facing the state.
Kulla hopes that message resonates in the Democratic primary, but also among the general electorate should he earn the party's nomination.
"I feel like our state and country are on a knife's edge where we have a movement away from democracy and toward extremism," Kulla said. "I think we need, as a community and state, to step up and do what's necessary to stop that. Everything has become a point of division and I believe I'm someone who can bridge those divides."
Kulla and his family live and farm in rural Oregon, but Yamhill County is a healthy mix of urban and rural lifestyles. It is also a politically divided swath of land that represents Oregon's shifting cultural dynamics. Cultivating relationships with people of all political backgrounds, including those who may disagree with him, has been one of Kulla's focuses while not compromising on his personal values.
One of those values which is weaved into many of his policy viewpoints is his passion for conservation and tackling the issue of climate change as its impacts begin to affect the state. Kulla recently visited leaders in the Rogue Valley to discuss wildfire and drought challenges, which he and scientists note are exacerbated by climate change.
"I have a lot of strong relationships with conservation groups," Kulla said. "The primary driver for me is finding out what they're working on, what they're struggling with, and how the governors' office can be better on conservation. I will be doing more of that during the campaign as well.
"My focus is on finding people in their communities and focusing on what they're worried about. What I've noticed so far is that a lot of people care about the same issues, it just might look different in their community. One of my goals as governor will be to identify local solutions to these issues and develop local partnerships, which is where my experience as a county commissioner comes in.
"Across the state we are seeing extreme weather that destroys and harms our communities. One of the things I hope we can move forward on is a model of resilience to these weather events, again focused on a local approach in partnership with state government. We provide the funding for what they need, and they tackle those problems head-on. This is an urgent issue as we see more extreme weather events happening year after year."
Kulla said he understands that running for governor means being ready to address every issue all of the time and being asked about one's position on a wide range of issues. His campaign website, www.kullafororegon.com, addresses his positions and he plans to do more outreach in the coming months.
While he has no primary opponents yet, there may be many, some of them with far more extensive statewide party connections and larger campaign coffers. Despite these challenges, Kulla is confident in the campaign team he's assembled of folks from the Portland-Metro area and Yamhill County.
"I am going to spend the next year traveling around the state, finding out what people are concerned about in their communities," Kulla said. "I'm comfortable in all of these places and there are so many people all over the political spectrum who feel left behind by their government. I feel like we have an opportunity to bring people together in this moment and understand that our concerns are largely common, even if we might not agree on solutions."
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