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Sen. Betsy Johnson and New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof are taking the outsider approach to being elected governor

FILE PHOTOS - New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, left, and state Sen. Betsy Johnson are taking the outsider lane in the race for to be Oregon's next governor. Two self-professed outsider candidates have moved toward joining the already crowded field for Oregon's open governorship in 2022.

However, Betsy Johnson and Nick Kristof are planning different routes to qualify for the statewide ballot.

Both routes are challenging.

Johnson plans to run as an independent — not affiliated with any party, including the Independent Party — in a state that has elected only one such governor in 162 years, Julius Meier, in 1930. She has been in the State Legislature for more than 20 years.

The most recent independent candidate to make a showing for governor was Al Mobley, who drew 13% in 1990. His anti-abortion candidacy drew votes away from Republican nominee Dave Frohnmayer and enabled Democrat Barbara Roberts to win.

Kristof has returned to the state of his birth after a 37-year career at The New York Times, where he won two Pulitzer Prizes. He has never run for public office, although he created a campaign committee last week. The most recent Oregon governor not to have held public office before election was Charles Sprague, editor and publisher of the Oregon Statesman (a predecessor of today's Statesman Journal). He won as a Republican in 1938.

Democratic Gov. Kate Brown cannot seek re-election because of term limits. She will have served almost two full terms.

It will be only the third open-seat race for governor in the past 20 years — and the first with no clear favorite.

Johnson declares

Johnson will shed her Democratic Party affiliation — she has been a Democratic lawmaker from Scappoose since 2001, and a senator since 2005 — to run unaffiliated with any party. To do so, she will need to muster 23,744 voter signatures, equal to 1% of the Oregon votes cast for president in 2020, by Aug. 16, 2022.

She has sided with Republicans more than any other Democrat in the current Oregon Senate — particularly on issues such as environmental legislation and firearms regulation that resonate differently in her largely rural district than in cities. However, she said she would not be beholden to those she feels have captured the Democratic and Republican parties.

"Having to choose between another left-wing liberal promising more of the same or a right-wing Trump apologist is no choice at all," she said in her statement last week. "Oregonians deserve better than the excesses and nonsense of the extreme left and radical right."

Johnson, 70, is a businesswoman and pilot.

She founded Transwestern Helicopters in 1978. The company's helicopter division was sold in 1993, and the successor business, Transwestern Aviation, is managed by her husband, John Helm.

She led the Aeronautics Division of the Oregon Department of Transportation from 1993 to 1998. The next year, she played a key role in persuading lawmakers to make it a separate Department of Aviation.

She was elected to the Oregon House in 2000, and was appointed to the Senate in 2005, after Joan Dukes was appointed to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council. She has been re-elected since, and has been Senate co-leader of the Legislature's joint budget committee since 2019. Her current Senate term ends in 2022.

She is the daughter of Samuel Johnson, a sawmill and forest land owner who himself was a Republican in the Oregon House from 1965 to 1979, and mayor of Redmond from 1979 until his death in 1984. Her mother, Becky Johnson, was a philanthropist who was on several state boards.

Kristof candidacy

Meanwhile, Kristof had already taken a leave from The New York Times, where he had worked since 1984, when he formed a campaign committee that will enable him to raise money and hire staff. His Oct. 12 action severed his connection with The Times, which does not allow employees to be candidates for public office.

An Oct. 14 posting by The Times Opinion editor quotes from his resignation letter:

"Precisely because I have a great job, outstanding editors and the best readers, I may be an idiot to leave. But you all know how much I love Oregon, and how much I've been seared by the suffering of old friends there. So I've reluctantly concluded that I should try not only to expose problems but also see if I can fix them directly."

Kristof, 62, grew up on a farm in Yamhill, which he has declared as his residence and has replanted grapes and done other work. He worked summers for a couple of Oregon newspapers, including the Statesman Journal in Salem, before joining The New York Times in 1984. He has won two Pulitzer Prizes — one of them shared with his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, for their reporting from China — and was an opinion columnist since 2001.

He and his wife have written five books, including "Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope," which focuses on economic struggles within the United States, as opposed to Asia and international issues highlighted in their other books. "Tightrope" tells the stories of several of Kristof's classmates, now dead or struggling, to illustrate what's wrong and how it can be fixed.

Counting Kristof, eight Democrats and 12 Republicans have created campaign committees, but not all of them have filed official candidacies. The deadline is March 8.

The Oregon Constitution specifies that a governor must be at least age 30 and an Oregon resident at least three years before election, in contrast to legislators, who must be residents of their districts at least one year. The latter requirement is waived during redistricting years. Kristof voted in New York in 2020.

So if Kristof does file as a candidate, the courts could decide his fate.


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