Oregon apparently will have at least three women in the general election for governor on Nov. 8 — and two of them faced each other for two years in the Oregon House.
They are Democrat Tina Kotek of Portland and Republican Christine Drazan of Canby — who emerged from record fields to win their party nominations Tuesday night, according to early returns — and Betsy Johnson of Scappoose, a former Democrat who plans an independent bid by qualifying for the ballot by petition.
All of them hope to succeed Democrat Kate Brown, who will have served just 38 days shy of two full terms when she leaves office Jan. 9, 2023. Brown was barred by term limits from a third consecutive term.
Kotek, the longest serving speaker of the Oregon House when she resigned in January, won the Democratic nomination with 55%. State Treasurer Tobias Read finished with 33%, and Patrick Starnes, a carpenter from Brownsville and the 2018 Independent Party nominee for governor, 2%. Twelve other Democrats trailed them.
Drazan was leading 19 Republican candidates with just 24%, which if it holds up would be the lowest share of the Republican vote for a nominee for governor in Oregon history going back at least 75 years. (Kevin Mannix won the GOP nomination with 35% in 2002; he lost to Democrat Ted Kulongoski.) Drazan is a former Republican leader of the Oregon House, but resigned in the middle of her second term to make the run for governor.
Drazan's nearest competitor was Bob Tiernan of Lake Oswego, also a former state representative in the 1990s, who trailed with 19%. Sandy Mayor Stan Pulliam was shy of 10%; others close together were political strategist Bridget Barton of West Linn, Baker City Mayor Kerry McQuisten, and Salem physician Bud Pierce, the party's 2016 nominee for governor.
Meanwhile, Johnson plans a serious campaign — she already has received almost $2 million from Nike co-founder Phil Knight — although Oregon voters have elected only one governor who was not a Democrat or Republican. (Anti-abortion candidate Al Mobley won 13% in 1990; his candidacy likely drew votes away from Republican Dave Frohnmayer and resulted in the election of Democrat Barbara Roberts as the first woman to be Oregon governor.)
Three times for Oregon?
According to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, 45 women have been governor of their states or territories.
Two-thirds were elected in their own right, such as Oregon's Roberts, a Democrat elected in 1990. A few succeeded their husbands. Most others were next in line of succession, including Oregon's Brown, a Democrat who was secretary of state when John Kitzhaber resigned under pressure amid an ethics scandal in 2015, just 38 days into his fourth term. Brown was elected in 2016 to the two-years remaining in that term, and in 2018 to a full term of her own.
Arizona has had four women as governor, a record.
While a trio of candidates for the top office of any state may be a national first, Nebraska was the first state where a woman defeated another woman for governor, back in 1986. Republican Kay Orr, the state treasurer, defeated Democrat Helen Boosalis, a former mayor of the state capital of Lincoln.
Among those who helped get Orr elected was Denny Miles, who took a leave from the office of Gov. Vic Atiyeh — the most recent Republican to hold the office, from 1979 to 1987 — to help prepare Orr for debates with her opponent. Miles said Orr offered him a job in her new administration, but he declined. Miles did help David Karnes, who was Orr's surprise appointee to the U.S. Senate vacancy resulting from the death of Ed Zorinsky in 1987, but returned to Oregon.
Kotek: Legislative leader aims higher
Tina Kotek of Portland emerged from a record field of 15 candidates to win the Democratic nomination in Tuesday's primary.
Kotek, 55, was a human services advocate before she won a North Portland seat in the Oregon House in 2006.
Kotek resigned earlier this year after 15 years in the House, a record nine of them as its speaker. She would be only the second former legislative presiding officer since the mid-1950s to become governor, after Democrat John Kitzhaber — a former Oregon Senate president — did it in 1994.
The most recent House speaker to become governor was John Hall, a Republican from Portland who was thrust into the job after a 1947 plane crash killed Gov. Earl Snell, the Senate president (then next in line) and the secretary of state. Hall lost the 1948 Republican primary to Douglas McKay, who went on to win. Hall later became a district judge in Lincoln County.
Some recent Oregon legislative leaders have made it to the governor's office. But Senate Republican leader Vic Atiyeh lost his first bid for governor in 1974, before he won in 1978. House Majority Leader Barbara Roberts and Senate Majority Leader Kate Brown were elected secretary of state first. Senate President Gordon Smith, a Republican from Pendleton, was elected on his second try for the U.S. Senate in 1996; he served two terms before Democrat Jeff Merkley (a former Oregon House speaker) unseated him in 2008. After 12 years as president of the National Association of Broadcasters, Smith has returned to Pendleton.
Drazan: First Republican in 40 years?
Christine Drazan of Canby emerged from a record field of 19 candidates to win the Republican primary.
Drazan, who turns 50 this year, has been president of the Cultural Advocacy Coalition of Oregon. She was elected in 2018 to the first of two terms in the Oregon House, and unseated a sitting Republican leader after the 2019 session. She stepped down from her leadership position in late 2021, and from the House earlier this year.
She also was the chief of staff to Mark Simmons when he was Oregon House speaker in 2001 and 2002.
Drazan seeks to be the first Republican elected governor since 1982, when Atiyeh won a second term. Democrats have been elected governor ever since in the longest streak by either major party in Oregon. However, in those 10 elections, only Kitzhaber won a landslide victory with 63% against 30% for Republican Bill Sizemore in 1998. (Sizemore ran again this year but trailed several other candidates.)
The closest a Republican has come to winning in recent years was Chris Dudley, who lost to Kitzhaber in 2010 by just 22,000 votes of 1.5 million cast.
Johnson: Neither of the above
Awaiting Kotek and Drazan is Betsy Johnson, a former Democratic state senator from Scappoose who is mounting an independent bid for governor. Johnson will need 24,000 signatures to qualify for a spot on the Nov. 8 ballot.
Johnson is a former state aviation director and owner of her own helicopter company. She was in the Oregon House from 2001 to 2005, when she was appointed to the Senate. She left the Senate at the close of 2021.
Johnson is the daughter of Sam Johnson — a sawmill and forest land owner who himself was a Republican state representative from Redmond from 1965 to 1979, and Redmond mayor from 1979 until his death in 1984 — and Elizabeth "Becky" Johnson, a philanthropist.
Johnson also would break a barrier. Only one Oregon governor has been elected since statehood who was not affiliated with the Democratic or Republican parties — Julius Meier in 1930. Meier came from the family that established the Meier and Frank department store chain, which was sold in 1965. A grand-nephew was Gerry Frank, a Salem businessman and former aide to U.S. Sen. Mark Hatfield, who died March 13 at age 98.
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