Politics

Oregon Democrats keep the governor’s office after a scare

By Lauren Dake (OPB)
Nov. 10, 2022 1 p.m.

Republicans were hopeful 2022 would be the first time in 40 years the state would elect a GOP governor. They were wrong

President Joe Biden, Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren — some of the biggest names in the Democratic Party — all made campaign stops in Oregon to warn voters the party was at risk of losing the governor’s office for the first time in four decades.

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The national Democrats who stumped for Kotek may have helped. Or perhaps it came down to basic math: There remain far more registered Democrats in Oregon than Republicans.

Either way, Democrat Tina Kotek will be Oregon’s next governor, according to returns that are not yet official.

Tina Kotek greets supporters at the Democratic Party of Oregon’s election night event, held Nov. 8, 2022 at the Hyatt Regency Portland.

Tina Kotek greets supporters at the Democratic Party of Oregon’s election night event, held Nov. 8, 2022 at the Hyatt Regency Portland.

Jonathan Levinson / OPB

It’s a familiar feeling for the GOP, but nonetheless discouraging. The conditions for a Republican upset were some of the most favorable in years. GOP nominee Christine Drazan was a well-funded candidate who managed to motivate both the party’s more conservative base and moderate voters. With a surging homeless crisis, a mounting sense among some voters that Oregon isn’t safe, and the rising costs of gas and other essentials, Democrats were on the defense. Drazan promised change.

And yet, after the 2022 election results left the Republican party without a single statewide office nor control of either legislative chamber.

Senate Republican Leader Tim Knopp, a longtime lawmaker representing Central Oregon, said he’s not letting Tuesday’s results get him down. Politics is often about the long game, he said, noting that Democrats worked for a decade to achieve a supermajority of seats in both chambers of the Legislature — enough to set policy on a strictly party-line vote. That supermajority is now lost. Republicans managed to flip at least one seat in the Senate this week, and it seems likely they also eroded the House supermajority, meaning Democrats can no longer raise taxes without Republican votes.

“We feel positive compared to where the rest of the nation was last night,” Knopp said. " … Now, the question is how far are we going to get into eroding the Democratic majority as there are still several seats left to be decided.”

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There are other positives: Lori Chavez-DeRemer, a former Republican mayor of Happy Valley, is beating Democrat Jamie McLeod-Skinner in the 5th Congressional District. If that result holds, it means the GOP will hold two of the state’s six U.S. House seats.

And despite not pulling off their goal of assuming control of a legislative chamber, the Republicans had a more coordinated fundraising effort this year. Former U.S. Rep. Greg Walden helped create a political action committee, Bring Balance to Salem PAC, to help Republicans in both chambers get more lawmakers elected.

“We made progress,” Knopp said. “We maybe just didn’t make as much as we were hoping for, but nonetheless we made good progress and that is the takeaway from this election.”

There remain some unknowns in this governor’s race. High on the list: What impact did Betsy Johnson, a former Democratic lawmaker who ran as an unaffiliated candidate, actually have — and who did she end up hurting the most? And how big of a role did the U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn the federal right to access an abortion play?

“If the Dobbs decision doesn’t happen, is Christine Drazan the governor at that point?” said John Horvick, a pollster with DHM Research. “We’ll never know for sure, but I have to think Democrats felt a need to continue to vote Democratic given that decision, and it was helpful for Tina Kotek at the least.”

The election results will not be final for several weeks, and there are still ballots being counted. Still, the bulk of uncounted ballots come from places that were going heavily for Kotek.

Kotek was the longest serving speaker of the state House in Oregon and has a long list of progressive legislative accomplishments. She was instrumental in pushing a bill to create statewide rent control in Oregon and a champion of the effort to codify the right to access an abortion. She promised as governor to tackle the homeless crisis, to clean up the “damn trash” and to hold state leaders accountable. She’ll also be, along with Massachusetts governor-elect Maura Healey, one of the first two openly lesbian governors in U.S. history.

Kotek declined to declare victory Wednesday, and Drazan did not concede. The former Republican House leader’s campaign sent out a seemingly optimistic note, saying they are still monitoring returns “with the expectation that this race will tighten.”

This is the first general election in which ballots postmarked on Election Day will still be counted, meaning some of the results are coming in slower than in years past. But most of the remaining ballots left to be counted are from Multnomah and Washington counties, which tend to favor Democratic candidates. Overall, registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans in Oregon by more than 280,000.

Sen. Peter Courtney, D-Salem, the state’s longest-ever serving Senate president said there will be plenty of time for post-mortem election analysis of the 2022 races. But there is one thing Courtney already knows, something he’s preached from the Senate dais for years.

Even if you’re the party in power, he said, “You can’t overreach at times … You have to have balance.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect Elizabeth Warren’s correct last name. OPB regrets the error.

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Democrat Tina Kotek will be Oregon’s next governor

Kotek is the longest-serving House Speaker in Oregon history and will be Oregon’s first openly lesbian governor. She has promised a more proactive, but still compassionate, approach to homelessness and crime in Oregon, than her predecessor, Gov. Kate Brown.