Kotek isn’t cause of the problem, She’s the result of the Problem

In the May 9, 2024, edition of Oregon Capital Insider, Dick Hughes writes:

Among the baffling aspects of Gov. Tina Kotek’s tenure is that she ranks among the nation’s least popular governors, despite two successful legislative sessions.

Oregonians’ low opinion of Kotek, which was borne out in recent Portland polling, likely has little to do with her Office of First Spouse fiasco. Instead, Kotek inherited the societal residue of her fellow progressive Democrat, Gov. Kate Brown.

“’Generally speaking, governors in Oregon haven’t been popular for a long time,’ said John Horvick, senior vice president at DHM Research. ‘There’s no big shifts, I think, in public sentiment around the governor.’”

What? How can that be? Blaming the grossly unpopular former Gov. Kate Brown (D) is convenient but ignores the statistical anomaly and the real problem. So let’s look at it with more than just a summary indictment of Ms. Brown and a similar whitewash of Ms. Kotek.

In 2018 Ms. Brown was elected for the first time but for a second term. Her first term was a result of the resignation of former Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) in disgrace. In that election Ms. Brown won 934,498 votes or 50.1 percent over Kurt Buehler with 814,988 votes or 43.7 percent – the remaining votes were cast for a variety of minor league candidates. Not exactly a show of overwhelming support for Ms. Brown but then Oregonians had a little over three years of her governance – a model that earned her the least liked governor in the United States. By the end of her tenure. Ms. Brown had pretty much sewn up that “honor” on a permanent basis.

In 2022, it was Ms. Kotek’s turn. Ms. Kotek was the five term Democrat Speaker of the House in Oregon and was well known within Salem’s political circles although she more or less disappeared into the woodwork for the general public with the exception of the teachers unions who anointed her in the primary election and funded her in the general election. But this time it was different – it was a three way race and Ms. Kotek’s opponents both had significant government experience. The Republicans nominated Christine Drazan who had previously served as minority leader in the House for two terms. And then there was Sen.. Betsy Johnson – a former Democrat turned independent. Ms Johnson served for sixteen year, first in the House and then in the Senate and was widely regarded as a fiscal expert and a political moderate. Ms. Johnson frequently clashed with the progressive wing of her party which, in large part, convinced her to run against yet another progressive from Portland – Ms. Kotek. In the final tally, Ms. Kotek received 917,074 votes or 47.0 percent, Ms. Drazen received 850,347 votes, or 43.5 percent and Ms. Johnson received only 165,431 votes or 8.6 percent.

But here is the curious thing. In Oregon in November of 2022, Democrats represented approximately 34.0 percent of the registered voters. Republicans represented approximately 24.5 percent and Independents and non-affiliated represented 39.4 percent. In other words, Ms. Kotek and Ms. Drazen out performed their respective registration percentages – Ms. Drazen by a far wider margin than Ms. Kotek – while Ms. Johnson grossly under performed the Independent and non-affiliated percentages.

While the largest bloc of voters in Oregon are Independents and non-affiliates, on both a gross and percentage basis, when given a chance to exercise their power chose instead to put yet another Portland progressive in office. Despite voters demonstrable distaste for Ms. Brown, they chose to install a virtual clone in Ms. Kotek. It’s not that Ms. Johnson lacked the credentials to be governor – hers were vastly superior to either Ms. Kotek or Ms. Drazen. It’s not that Ms. Johnson lacked financial support for her candidacy, she was able to tap some of Oregon’s top political donors – including both Republican and Democrat donors. And it’s not that Ms. Johnson lacked influential endorsement, she received endorsements from well known politicos both Republican and Democrat.

So how do you explain the mismatch between political affiliation and election results? I understand that there is a difference between polling for job performance amongst the general public and for voting preference amongst those registered voters who actually cast a ballot during the 2022 election. About 93.7 percent of eligible voters are registered to vote in Oregon and yet only 82.0 percent of registered voters actually voted. More importantly, only 76.cent of eligible voters actually cast a ballot. Thus one in four eligible adults appear to prefer complaining over actual voting.

The problem is actually the weakness of a democracy. We are not required to vote in an election. When we choose not to participate, we cede the decision to those that do. The fact that those who choose not to participate, does not mean that they cannot complain. And, in Oregon, they have plenty to complain about. High taxes, wasteful spending, inefficient management of programs, unchecked public violence, unrelenting secrecy, favoritism and corruption of high offices. And because we have had one-party rule for over three decades in Oregon, it is easy to understand the frustration. But in the end – by the United States Constitution and the Oregon Constitution, the singular remedy lies in the ballot box – unless there is provable corruption in the voting process.

So, if you seeking a solution, again start with the (wo)man in the mirror. It isn’t Ms. Kotek that is the cause of the problems in Oregon, it is you who enabled her to become the cause of the problems in Oregon.