Oregon’s Three-way Race for Governor

Oregon’s three-way race for governor is gaining national attention and a ton of money for campaigns. For thirty plus years the Democrats have controlled the governor’s office. Over the last two decades they have added control of virtually all statewide offices, both houses of the state legislature, most of the judiciary* and all but one of the congressional seats (two Democrat senators and four out of five Democrat representatives.) Oregon has been a one-party state for decades and the corruption inherent in one party rule is evidenced everywhere from judicial appointments, to closed legislative processes to arbitrary adoption of rules and regulations by the executive (governor) branch.

The voter registration in Oregon has, until this year, had Democrats at a distinct advantage over Republicans with unaffiliated voters providing the “swing” to a majority. For instance, the month before the general election in 2020** it broke down as follows:

Democrats 1,043,175

Republicans 750,718

Unaffiliated 938,643

Others 72,911

TOTAL 2,805,447

In 2020, according to statistics from the Oregon Secretary of State’s office, 88.4% of Democrats voted in the general election, 87.9% of Republicans voted and just 60% of unaffiliated electors voted. Gov. Kate Brown (D) won that 2020 election with a vote of 922,847 to Republican Bud Pierce’s total of 800,898.  If 88.4% of Democrats voted (and assuming all of them voted for Ms. Brown, that would have accounted for 99.9% of Ms. Brown vote total. On the other hand, if 87.9% of the Republicans voted and they all cast their votes for Mr. Pierce, that would represent 659,881 of Mr. Pierce’s total or 82.4%.

That would suggest that Ms. Brown drew little support from the unaffiliated bloc while Mr. Pierce drew a tepid response. But it is telling as you try to decipher what a three-way race portends for 2022.

But this is really a much more nuanced race. The Democrat nominee is the former speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives – Tina Kotek. The Republican nominee is the former minority leader of the Oregon State Senate – Christine Drazan. However, the unaffiliated or independent candidate is long time centrist Democrat Betsy Johnson. You might suggest that there are now two Democrats and one Republican running. However, you would be better served to recognize that Ms. Kotek won her primary with the endorsements and financial support of Oregon’s public employee unions and represents the far left liberal/progressive wing of the Oregon Democrat Party. Ms. Johnson is likely to gain the support of all the rest of the traditional Democrats, private sector unions, farmers, ranchers, small business and others who are tired of being ignored and run over by the Portland dominated left wing of the party.

So, you could say that this three way race is actually between the public employees unions vs. the historical Democrat base vs. the Republicans.*** Regardless as to how you cast it, given the registration differences, this may be the best opportunity to break the stranglehold of the Democrat liberal/progressive/public employee unions cabal. And here is how it is going to play out.

Ms. Kotek will face significant defections from the Democrat ranks. We know that because there is a substantial block of Democrats that don’t like the current Democrat governor – Ms. Brown. And further they know that Ms. Kotek is basically Ms. Brown with a shorter haircut and a nastier disposition. They will defect because they can do so without voting for a Republican – God forbid. There will not be any great surge by unaffiliated voters to Ms. Kotek because there isn’t any reason for doing so. If you are unaffiliated it’s generally because you don’t like extremely partisan politics and that basically that defines Ms. Kotek. Mark Ms. Kotek’s base as shrinking dramatically – particularly if her opponents are able to define her as the public employee unions lackey.

Ms. Drazan will also face some defections from the country club Republicans but not at the same volume – not by a long shot. Ms. Drazan, while conservative, is pretty mainstream and is considered to be a genuinely nice person. There isn’t much reason for defection by Republicans other than pettiness no matter how you wrap it. There may be some level of support from the unaffiliated voters to Ms. Drazan because Ms. Johnson is adamantly pro-abortion on demand, as is the liberal/progressive Ms. Kotek. Ms. Drazan’s challenge will be to solidify her Republican base and draw defections from the pro-life base in both the Democrat Party and the unaffiliated voters. She will also have to demonstrate that she is equally as capable and desirous of working across the political parties as is Ms. Johnson – no one would believe Ms. Kotek if she tried to claim that mantle.

Ms. Johnson’s challenge is to convince voters that she can win and govern without a political party in support of her agenda. That may be easier than you might think given the rancorous nature of Oregon politics over the past two decades. She is also going to have to build a centrist agenda which will include undoing many of the highly partisan actions of her predecessors and the liberal/progressive legislature. That will be a greater challenge.

In the end, it is my belief that it will be a toss up between Ms. Drazan and Ms. Johnson with Ms. Kotek finishing a distant and deserved third. However you intend to vote you should view this as the best opportunity to drive a stake through the heart of the public employees unions dominance of Oregon politics.

However, don’t bet the mortgage payment on my prognostications because I have a long history of being dead wrong.


*In a little sweetheart deal between the members of the judiciary and the governor’s office, sitting members resign or retire before their term is up so that the governor can appoint their successors – all reliable Democrats. For instance, Gov. Kate Brown (D) has appointed all of the current members of the Supreme Court of Oregon because all of the previous members resigned prior to the expiration of their terms.

**The latest registrations have now placed the unaffiliated voters as the largest bloc of voters for 2022.

*** There will be defections from the Republican Party by the country club Republicans (mostly in the Willamette Valley) who have failed consistently in previous elections.