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Betsy Johnson gains a spot on November ballot for governor UPDATE

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Oregon Capital Bureau

Former state Sen. Betsy Johnson has qualified for the Nov. 8 general election as an unaffiliated candidate for governor.

“Damn straight,” Johnson said in a statement. “This is a momentous day for Oregon.”

Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan issued a statement Thursday that Johnson had submitted 37,679 valid signatures, well above the threshold of 23,744 required. State law sets the number as 1% of the total vote in the most recent presidential election.

Former House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, won the Democratic primary in May. Former House Minority Leader Christine Drazan, R-Canby, won the Republican race.

Kotek and Drazan won closed primaries in which only members of their own party could cast ballots. The system excluded the largest share of voters — the 34% with no party affiliation — from voting for governor in the primary election.

In November, all 2.9 million voters vote for the same slate of candidates. 

Johnson on Thursday returned to her central theme since her announcement last year, casting herself as running between a too-liberal Democrat and too-conservative Republican.

“We have an incredible opportunity this year to reject the extremes and elect an independent governor who will put Oregonians first,” Johnson said Thursday.

Johnson supports abortion rights, but in the Senate has broken with Democrats on gun control and recent efforts to curb carbon pollution in the state.

Drazan has cast Johnson’s 20 years as a Democratic lawmaker as evidence that she is part of the one-party power structure that has dominated Salem for most of the past two decades.

Kotek points to Johnson’s gun and environmental record as showing she’s out of step with the bulk of Oregonians who have kept Democrats in the governor’s office as a hedge against Republican turmoil of recent years in Washington.

Johnson raced ahead on fundraising, paced by $1.75 million so far from Oregon’s wealthiest resident, Nike founder Phil Knight.

With major financial backing from timber and construction interests, Johnson has reported over $10.5 million in contributions, according to Thursday’s state campaign finance summaries. Kotek has raised about $7.6 million, while Drazan has totaled about $6.3 million.

Kotek and Drazan have received backing from their party’s traditional allies, labor and progressive interests groups for Democrats, business and conservative activists for Republicans.

But Johnson has already spent about $6.9 million before even officially qualifying for the election on Thursday.

Johnson’s campaign has said the money is needed to build a campaign infrastructure to compete with the ones handed to Kotek and Drazan by their national and state parties.

Democratic and Republican party groups have given over $1 million each to Kotek and Drazan, and are expected to keep up contributions as the race is touted in some forecasts as a “toss-up.”

Johnson spent over $300,000 on paid signature gatherers to go along with her volunteer “Betsy Brigades” to ensure the Secretary of State’s signature count didn’t come up short.

The final statewide ballot will be set Aug. 30. County and local ballots must be finalized no later than Sept. 8.

The trio of women running for governor will ensure a historic election in November.

No matter who wins, it will be the first time that a woman has succeeded a woman to the state’s top job. Gov. Kate Brown could not run again because of constitutional term limits.

Johnson is seeking to become the second governor in state history to be elected without major party support. Julius Meier won one term in 1930.

Drazan is running to be the first Republican to win the office since Gov. Vic Atiyeh was elected to a second term in 1982. 

Kotek is seeking to extend the Democratic win streak dating back to the election of Neil Goldschmidt in 1986. 

The ballot will feature three major candidates with the added twist that for the first time since 2002, no incumbent or former governor will be up for election.

The ballot will likely include at least two minor party candidates. Even if they poll just 5% of the vote altogether, that may be enough to throw a tight race into chaos.

The governor’s race is just the marquee attraction on Nov. 8. The election also features a sixth congressional district Oregon received because of population growth reflected in the 2020 U.S. Census.

The new district is among three open U.S. House seats up for grabs in November.

Redistricting has also scrambled the lines of legislative districts. All 60 seats in the state House will be on the ballot, while 16 of 30 state Senate seats go before voters.

Voters will decide four ballot ballot measures, including a gun control initiative and a constitutional change that would punish lawmakers who might walk out on legislative sessions. 


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