Kotek Rallied Democratic Base to Boost Voter Turnout
Tina Kotek overcame a tight three-way race for governor by rallying Oregon’s Democratic base and boosting election turnout, according to an analysis by The Washington Post.
“Like many Democrats this Election Day, Kotek defied expectations, and she continued the long party streak of holding the governor’s office in Oregon,” The Postreported.” Kotek’s ability to increase Democratic turnout and avoid losing too many votes to [Betsy] Johnson proved key to her success.”
Based on midterm election votes counted as of November 12, The Post said 178,000 more Oregon registered Democrats cast ballots than registered Republicans. The last votes to be counted come from largely Democratically leaning parts of the state, so the gap is expected to increase.
A Three-Way Race Changed Election Dynamics
The prospect of a three-way, all-woman gubernatorial race drew lots of attention. Backers of former state Senator Betsy Johnson, who gathered more than enough signatures to win a place on the general election ballot as a non-affiliated candidate, saw an opportunity to exploit voter discontent with Democratic Governor Brown. Republicans saw an opening to capture the statehouse for the first time in 40 years in a competitive three-way race with Johnson drawing votes away from Kotek.
The candidates reportedly spent almost $80 million to pound out a win. Early polls showed Kotek and Republican Christine Drazan in a virtual dead heat with Johnson receiving 18 percent of the prospective vote.
As The Post observed, Kotek saw her opening in encouraging a larger turnout. Democrats enjoy a more than 250,000 registered voter edge over Republicans in Oregon. The key for Kotek was to energize Democrats disappointed with Brown or President Biden to cast a ballot for her. The issue that did the trick was abortion rights.
“Kotek and other Democrats in the state highlighted threats to reproductive rights that Oregonians would face should Republicans succeed in the midterms,” The Postsaid. “Recent research by political scientist Katherine Haenschen showed that even in 2018, when abortion was a less salient issue, these types of appeals helped bring in sympathetic voters.” Kotek’s leadership as House Speaker in codifying abortion rights strengthened her appeal to voters.
Former Oregon labor official Tim Nesbitt credited Kotek’s win to the “pulling-teeth turnout that shapes the final margins via phones and doors”. “Ds track who votes day by day and targets them (ever since Vote by Mail),” he explained. “Unions’ electoral coalition has built a database of voter IDs over many cycles.”
Johnson’s well-funded campaign, which began during the spring and intensified after the May primary, sought to reclaim middle ground from what she deplored as the extremes of both major political parties. Johnson made a point of emphasizing her support for abortion rights, even though Planned Parenthood only endorsed Kotek in the race.
Kotek Leaned into Homeless Issue at End of Her Campaign
Kotek needed more ammunition than abortion rights to prevail. She leaned in to addressing homelessness and housing affordability, a major concern voiced by voters in polling, by offering a detailed plan. One of her TV ads featured the endorsement of Ed Blackburn, the former executive director at Central City Concern who started working on homeless issues as far back as the 1970s.
The ad that may have left the deepest impression showed Kotek on screen describing how she called for a homelessness emergency three years ago, noting Brown “did nothing” and Drazan blocked action when she staged a House walkout as House Republican Leader. The ad closed with the line, “We certainly don’t need a red state takeover to clean up the damn trash”. Such demonstrative appeals were intended – and evidently succeeded – in rallying Democratic voters.
To convey a sense of urgency and importance to Democrats, Kotek’s campaign attracted personal campaign visits by President Biden and Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, who collectively captured 96 percent of the Oregon Democratic presidential primary votes in 2020. Former President Obama also cut a pro-Kotek TV commercial calling her the “real deal” and adding, “Tina knows things are broken, but she’s a fixer. Always has been, always will be. And she’s the leader we need in this moment.”
Kotek will be Oregon’s third women governor and the state’s first lesbian chief executive. Maura Healey was elected as the first woman and openly gay governor of Massachusetts. Because her election victory was declared before Kotek’s, Healey was hailed by national media as the nation’s first lesbian governor.
“We certainly don’t need a red state takeover to clean up the damn trash”. Such demonstrative appeals were intended – and evidently succeeded – in rallying Democratic voters.
Post-Election Promises Kotek Made
In addition to promising to tackle homelessness, Kotek made other post-election promises – to narrow the urban-rural divide, get tough on state bureaucrats, expand access to mental health and addiction treatment and rid the state of big-money politics Nigel Jaquiss of Willamette Week posted a lengthy story exploring Kotek’s promises. Here are a few excerpts from his reporting:
“By 2025, she will ‘end unsheltered homelessness for veterans, families with children, unaccompanied young adults, and people 65 years and older.’ Kotek’s plan aims to move the most vulnerable people on the streets inside.”
Ed Blackburn, who developed more than 1,000 units of affordable housing on his watch at Central City Concern, says Kotek could use the state’s control of low-income tax credits to demand Portland expedite permitting and design review, which are impediments to development. She could say, ‘We want to see more for our money.’”
Mental Health and Addiction Services
As House Speaker, Kotek led a drive to appropriate $500 million for mental health services. Measure 110 will redirect $300 million in cannabis tax revenue to addiction treatment. “We’re not providing enough access to care. And it’s not all about the money. This is about how we have set up our system delivery.” Blackburn says Kotek understands there needs to be a continuum of care. Kotek also pledged to replace Patrick Allen as head of the Oregon Health Authority.
“I will work to bridge the divisions in our state. I’ll spend time in communities all over Oregon working to fix problems and partner with Oregonians who want to find solutions.” Jaquiss cited two Republicans who believe Kotek has a chance to make a difference.
“If Kotek shows up in rural communities and pushes lawmakers and state agencies to address housing, homelessness and economic opportunity, she can win friends. ‘She has the ability to get a lot done,’ says state Senator Lynn Findley (R-Vale). ‘Homelessness and housing aren’t just a Portland problem. A lot of Eastern Oregon has significant homeless issues and, on a per capita basis, maybe it’s worse out here.’”
“I put the responsibility on the managers and leadership,” Kotek told Willamette Week. “What I want to see from agency leadership as the next governor is that we have people who have a plan, have a timeline and know how to get it done.”
“We’re going to give you (public employees) tools to do your job better,” Kotek told WW. “And we also need to see outcomes. I’m OK with those hard conversations.”
Big Money in Politics
After spending almost $30 million on her successful gubernatorial campaign, Kotek says she supports campaign contribution limits that would prevent million-dollar donations. The 2023 Oregon legislature is teed up to consider a proposal to restrict individual donations to $2,000 per donor and, if the legislation fails to pass, a similar initiative could be pursued in the 2024 election.