Image for First Oregon Gubernatorial Debate Civil and Informative
Republican Christine Drazan (left), Democrat Tina Kotek (center) and non-affiliated candidate Betsy Johnson (right) engaged last week in their first gubernatorial debate that was civil, informative and without political surprises. Only one more formal debate has been scheduled, which will be hosted by an NBC affiliate in Medford.

Candidates Disagree on Abortion, Guns and Climate Action

In the first 2022 Oregon gubernatorial debate, Republican Christine Drazan promised change, Democrat Tina Kotek touted results and non-affiliated candidate Betsy Johnson argued for common ground. The debate among the three former state legislators was civil, informative and without any political surprises. Only one more debate has been scheduled.

Hosted by the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association, this debate is considered the official kickoff of the 2022 gubernatorial campaign, even though Johnson and Drazan are already airing TV commercials. Johnson has raised $10 million for her campaign, Drazan reports bringing in $4.8 million and Kotek has collected $3.8 million before expected major contributions from labor unions. Oregonians can expect airwaves this fall full of gubernatorial campaign ads.

Predictably, Drazan blamed one-party Democratic political domination for Oregon’s problems. Johnson said she is campaigning to escape the political extremes of both major parties. Kotek recounted her political achievements as House Speaker for nearly a decade.

Drazan and Johnson took aim at each other during the debate, signaling a campaign strategy of trying to corner the political middle of Oregon’s electorate. Kotek hammered home her legislative achievements such as a minimum wage increase and gun regulation to solidify support from core Democrats and independents who lean progressive. Early polling suggests there is no runaway leader in the three-way race for the open governor’s seat.

In answers to questions posed by reporters, the candidates discussed abortion, gun regulation, homelessness, climate change and the urban-rural divide. Their differences were clearly delineated, especially on abortion. Drazan associated herself with “pro-life values”. Johnson said she is pro-choice but doesn’t favor Oregon taxpayers footing the bill for abortions for out-of-state residents. Kotek defended Oregon’s strong pro-abortion statute, which she helped pass, and supported the $15 million the legislature set aside to help patients from outside Oregon receive abortions. “This is not a moment for halfsies,” Kotek said.

All three candidates said addressing homelessness would be a top priority. Each cited initiatives they supported or authored to help homeless people and families transition to more stable housing.

Drazan and Johnson voiced support for more favorable timber policies. The candidates disagreed on climate policy. Even though it wasn’t directly discussed in the debate, Drazan earned her spurs in the GOP when she led a walkout to deny Democrats a quorum to pass cap-and-trade legislation. That led Governor Brown to issue an executive order to pursue aggressive carbon reduction policies. Drazan and Johnson said they would tear up the executive order if elected.

They also disagreed on guns. Kotek voiced support for Initiative 17, which qualified at the deadline for the November ballot, that would require a permit and firearm safety training before purchasing a gun in Oregon. Drazan opposes further gun restrictions but didn’t say she would try to repeal existing ones. Johnson has modified her pro-gun position to support raising the minimum age to purchase assault-type weapons and making juvenile records accessible for background checks.

Early polling suggests there is no runaway leader in the three-way race for Oregon’s open governor’s seat.

The Oregon race will be notable regardless of the outcome. Drazan, Johnson and Kotek represent the only competitive gubernatorial race in the nation involving three women candidates. Johnson, assuming she secures enough signatures to be place on the general election ballot, would become only the second non-affiliated candidate in Oregon to win a gubernatorial election. If elected, Kotek would be the first openly lesbian governor in the nation. Drazan would be the first Republican to become governor since Vic Atiyeh who was elected in 1978.

In opening statements, each candidate provided their political back story:

  • Drazan grew up in Klamath Falls where her father worked in the timber industry and faced periodic unemployment that she attributed to timber policies. She attended high school in Eagle Point and graduated from George Fox University. Her career in politics began when she worked for a Republican Speaker of the House in Salem. She was elected to the Oregon House and after one session was selected as House Minority Leader. She and her husband have three children and live in rural Clackamas County near Canby.
  • Johnson was born into a wealthy family and grew up in Redmond. Her father served in the Oregon House and her mother on the Oregon Board of Higher Education. Johnson attended the Oregon Episcopal School in Portland, took her undergraduate degree from Carleton College and earned a law degree through night classes at Lewis & Clark Law School. An accomplished helicopter pilot, she started her own aviation business and was a lobbyist before being elected in coastal districts to the Oregon House and later to the Oregon Senate where she served for 20 years. Johnson is married.
  • Kotek moved in 1987 from the East Coast to Oregon, attended the University of Oregon as undergraduate and earned a master’s degree from the University of Washington, where she led a fight for equal domestic partnership rights. Kotek returned to Oregon to work for the Oregon Food Bank and later as policy director for Children First for Oregon. Kotek was elected to the Oregon House representing a North Portland district and in the 2013 legislative session was elected as Speaker. She is married.

To watch the entire debate, go to