Gubernatorial debate raises questions voters need to consider

Happy with the way things have been going in Oregon?
Here in Lebanon we’re experiencing a lot of the same issues we see on the nightly news: rising costs, homelessness, educational challenges, increased taxation and other issues for businesses, etc. etc.
It might seem early to be talking now, in mid-summer, about the Oregon governor’s race, but we don’t think so – not this year, anyway.
The Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association hosted the first debate among the most visible candidates for governor – Republican Christine Drazan, non-affiliated candidate Betsy Johnson and Democrat Tina Kotek – on July 29. Traditionally, and it was the case this year, the ONPA debate kicks off the real start of the final campaign, and it was pretty clear that Oregonians have a pretty clear choice, even among these candidates.
That’s good, because we haven’t necessarily gotten that sense in the past few elections, in which candidates weren’t always the strongest.
All three candidates should already be somewhat familiar to voters, as they’ve been airing campaign commercials – Johnson for more than a month, as she has been barnstorming to get the 23,744 signatures she needs to qualify for the ballot as an independent candidate.
Assuming that she gets there by the mid-August deadline, those three will be on the ballot along with Libertarian candidate R. Leon Noble.
Debates can sometimes be a lot of canned patter, but this one included some significant line-drawing as candidates attempted to distinguish themselves.
It was moderated by Mark Garber, president of the Pamplin Media Group, which publishes 24 newspapers in the Portland metro area and in Central Oregon.
Questions were posed by four working journalists: Danielle Jester, a reporter for the Lake County Examiner; Laura Gunderson, editorial and opinion pages editor for the Oregonian; Andrew Cutler, publisher and editor of the East Oregonian newspaper and regional editorial director for the EO Media Group, which publishes 17 newspapers in Oregon and southwestern Washington; and Mark Miller, editor in chief for Pamplin’s Washington County newspapers.
This year’s race, by anyone’s standard, comes at a crossroads.
We don’t think anybody would disagree that Oregon isn’t in a good place, which was pointed out multiple times by all three candidates during the election. COVID hasn’t helped, but there are plenty of other directions to point fingers.
Visit their websites and you’ll see the candidates’ own takes: Homelessness, public safety, education, rising prices, lack of attention to the needs of business, lack of government accountability, the effects of COVID mandates, abortion.
Working alphabetically here:
Drazan elected to the state House in 2018 and who served as Minority Leader from 2019 until she stepped down in 2021, portrayed herself as an agent for change, accusing the Democrats, who have controlled the Legislature and the Governor’s Office since 2012, have “lost sight of serving everyday Oregonians.”
Johnson, a Democratic state lawmaker from 2000 until 2021 – most recently in the Sentate, left the Democratic party last year to run unaffiliated, portrayed herself as the candidate who can provide “common-sense change” and who is not beholden to either party.
Kotek, the Democratic candidate, who was elected to the state House of Representatives in 2006 and was Speaker of the House from 2013 until she stepped down from the legislature earlier this year to run for governor, portrayed herself as an accomplished progressive who will “bring people together,” emphasizing an intention to “work collaboratively” to solve problems.
Right there, it should be obvious that Oregonians have some clear choices among those three, as should become obvious to viewers of the debate.
The journalists posing questions quizzed candidates about timber resources management, homelessness and mental health, the urban/rural divide in Oregon (illustrated by the Greater Idaho movement), climate change and energy, mental health, abortion, gun control, and the flight of high-tech firms and other businesses from Oregon.
Candidates had 90 seconds to answer questions, with limited opportunities to respond further, and were also given a brief opportunity to address questions individually to each other.
We can’t go into detail in this space, but you can read our report on their responses at www.lebanonlocalnews.com/gubernatorial-hopefuls-face-off-in-debate, and we recommend viewing the debate at vimeo.com/730170668/056a8f1290.
We guarantee it will be worthwhile for anyone trying to determine where they stand on this race, which is historic in that it involves three women who are considered the primary candidates and it will mark the next step after Brown took over the Governor’s Office in early 2015. She was twice invited to participate in the ONPA debates and declined both times.
Brown’s name came up multiple times in the debate, as Drazan and Johnson in particular linked the state’s problems to inaction or inattention from state leaders, citing government inattention and lack of accountability as major problems for state residents.
Drazan, perhaps not surprisingly, complained about the Democratic majority essentially ignoring input from the other side of the aisle, and the manner in which legislation was passed – often nearly entirely in a virtual setting – the latter a point on which Johnson, who portrayed herself as independent of ties to either party’s agenda, seemed to agree.
Kotek painted herself as an agent to bring people together collaboratively to solve problems, acknowledging that the state suffers from divisiveness and “partisan games.”
What do you think? We suggest that it’s worth 75 minutes of voters’ time to start boning up on these candidates, as well as Mr. Noble, before Nov. 8.