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Interviews by OPB revealed sharp differences among the three leading gubernatorial candidates on how to address climate action and highway congestion. Republican Christine Drazan and non-affiliated candidate Betsy Johnson support adding more highway lanes, while Democrat Tina Kotek favors alternatives such as transit.

Drazan, Johnson and Kotek Offer Would Pursue Different Policies

Some of the sharpest divisions among the three leading Oregon gubernatorial candidates deal with climate action and transportation, as reflected by individual interviews conducted by Oregon Public Broadcasting and posted last week.

GOP candidate Christine Drazan and non-affiliated candidate Betsy Johnson favor widening highways to reduce congestion and carbon emissions from idling vehicles. Democrat Tina Kotek puts her emphasis on highway safety, public transit, zero-emission vehicles and support for the state’s Clean Fuels Program.

Drazan and Johnson also line up together in opposition to Governor Brown’s 2020 executive order to institute caps on greenhouse gas emissions. Both say they would rescind the order if elected to succeed Brown. Kotek would keep the order in place and said it was necessary because Drazan as House Minority Leader staged a walkout that prevented a floor vote on cap-and-trade legislation.

Drazan and Johnson expressed support for maintaining existing hydropower sources. Kotek offered no opinion on hydropower or the effort to remove existing dams on the Snake River.

Republican Christine Drazan (left) and non-affiliated candidate Betsy Johnson (center) agree on highway widening and tossing out Governor Brown’s executive order on carbon emission reduction. Democrat Tina Kotek (right) supports the executive order and says it was necessary because Drazan led a GOP walkout that prevented legislative action.

After Labor Day, campaign ads from each candidate moved from making their respective case for their candidacy to attack ads on their opponents. Kotek has taken Drazan and Johnson to task for their opposition to legislation requiring background checks and ‘red flag’ restrictions, which earned her opponents NRA endorsements. Drazan refers to Kotek, Johnson and Brown as the “Squad” that has contributed to increasing crime, drug use and homelessness. Johnson paints both Kotek and Drazan as too extreme, taking special aim at Drazan for her support from anti-abortion groups.

Public and private polls continue to show a tight race, with Johnson eating into support for both Drazan and Kotek. Johnson maintains her fundraising edge, though the Republican Governors Association just dropped another $1 million in Drazan’s campaign bank account. Labor unions are stepping up their support for Kotek with phone banks and direct outreach.

The well-respected Cook Report has gone from saying the Oregon gubernatorial race was “leaning Democratic” to more recently describing it as a toss-up.

The well-respected Cook Report has gone from saying the Oregon gubernatorial race was “leaning Democratic” to more recently describing it as a toss-up with the eventual winner only capturing less than 40 percent of the vote. Polling this early is a poor indicator of turnout, which could be the margin of difference. Kotek is emphasizing her pro-choice credentials, Drazan touts fighting crime and recriminalizing drug possession and Johnson insists she would be above extreme partisanship.

Here are candidate quotes from the OPB interviews:


Drazan: “I support widening our highways, by building more lanes. I believe we can both reduce traffic times and reduce emissions from idling engines. But this is an incomplete solution unless we address jobs. We need to ensure that people can access work within a reasonable distance from the home that they can afford. As long as we place housing and jobs at opposite ends of the metro area, we will face congestion challenges, we must take a more holistic approach and provide economic opportunity to all communities.”

Johnson: “I would increase highway capacity when necessary to move vehicles more efficiently through our highways. The more we maintain efficient flow, the less emissions will be released. I believe vehicle emission standards must be addressed federally to keep Oregon businesses competing on a level playing field.”

Kotek: “When investing in transportation infrastructure, we should be ensuring our roads and bridges are safe. We should also be adding transit options and improving bike and pedestrian access. I don’t think this is an ‘either/or’ conversation. I believe we can have safe roads that aren’t clogged with traffic all day long and smart strategies to reduce pollution from cars and trucks. As House Speaker, I fought to reduce greenhouse gas pollution from Oregon’s transportation sector by initiating the Clean Fuels Program, which is now one of Oregon’s most successful policies for addressing the state’s role in climate change. In 2015, I overcame opposition from Republicans, big oil lobbyists, and Betsy Johnson to start this program, and now it has successfully reduced almost 6 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions and displaced over one billion gallons of fossil fuels. And, in the 2017 transportation package, I fought for a new program to help Oregonians buy zero-emission vehicles and the first statewide fund to support local transit. As Governor, I will protect the Clean Fuels Program from the perennial attacks launched by the fossil fuel industry. I will also work with our federal partners to maximize the progress Oregon can make from the clean energy investments in the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act, such as building out electric vehicle charging stations along highways and investing in cleaner buses and trucks.”

Executive Order on Capping Carbon Emissions

Drazan: “I would tear up Governor Brown’s cap-and-trade executive order on Day One. It is an extraordinary abuse of power by the executive branch that will, in the end, provide little in the way of environmental benefits while harming businesses, consumers, and our overall state economy.”

Johnson: “I’d rescind that order in a heartbeat. Governor Brown’s ill-conceived executive order was intended to implement her failed cap-and-trade plan through regulatory fiat after she was unable to get it through the legislature. The governor should not be usurping legislative authority just because she can’t get her way. As Oregon’s independent governor, I will lead the climate fight with practical, common-sense solutions: better forest management, green energy, and greater innovation in emission-reducing technologies. Democrats are right – we need to do more to reduce carbon pollution. But Republicans are right too – we don’t need to destroy good-paying jobs and rural economies to do it. I’ll put Oregonians to work in the woods to better manage our forests, with thinning, controlled burns, and sustainable forestry practices. In addition to better forest management, I will continue pushing Oregon into a green energy future, including protecting the 100% carbon-free hydro that provides roughly 50% of our current electricity needs.

Kotek: “No, I will not rescind that order or walk back our commitments to reduce air pollution. The executive order was only necessary because Christine Drazan led her fellow Republicans to walk off the job and derail an entire legislative session instead of negotiating in good faith to address the climate crisis. Both my conservative opponents have received major campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry and have spent years siding with big polluters. Climate change impacts like wildfires and extreme weather are already a major threat to our way of life and have deadly consequences, like last year’s extreme heat that killed nearly 100 people. That’s why I am committed to transitioning to a clean energy economy, one that provides clean renewable energy, grows jobs, and helps fight the effects of climate change.”

Removing Snake River Dams

Drazan: “it’s important to start by acknowledging that Oregon is already among the greenest states in the country, due in large part to our ability to access renewable hydropower and other clean power sources.”

Johnson: “Like Kate Brown, Tina Kotek wants to tear down critical carbon-free hydro, damaging our regional economy, Eastern Oregon agriculture and vital river transportation. The proposal to take out four Snake River dams could raise energy costs by up to 25%. Oregonians can’t afford that. I will defend our state’s clean and abundant hydro supplies.”

Kotek: [No direct answer was included in the published interviews]