Image for Oregon Politics Lights Up Before Holiday Break

Oregon politics got a running start on the holiday season. Republicans received a new gubernatorial hopeful, judges blessed congressional and legislative redistricting maps and Betsy Johnson posted an initial campaign treasure chest totaling $2 million.

House Minority Leader Christine Drazan signaled she will enter the 2022 gubernatorial race, reportedly at the urging of leading Republicans who see opportunity in a three-way general election contest. Even though Drazan has only led House Republicans for two years, she has earned partisan plaudits for her toughness in facing off with majority Democrats, exemplified by her special session censure motion against House Speaker Tina Kotek.

Drazan’s pending entrance into the race suggests dissatisfaction among some party leaders and contributors with the current crop of GOP candidates, led by Dr. Bud Pierce who ran and lost to Kate Brown in 2018. There is a sense Drazan, who lives in Canby, would offer an appealing alternative to Kotek, a Portlander who is considered a frontrunner for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

The eventual Democratic and Republican nominees will face Johnson, running as an unaffiliated candidate in the general election. The long-time conservative Democratic state senator changed the dynamic of the election with her initial campaign report totaling $2 million, including sizable contributions from several leading Oregonians. Johnson’s candidacy is expected to draw votes – and campaign contributions – from both Republican and Democratic ranks.

 Long-time conservative Democratic state Senator Betsy Johnson changed the dynamic of the 2022 gubernatorial race with her initial campaign report totaling $2 million, including contributions from noteworthy Oregonians.

Kotek, who is remaining as House Speaker through next year’s short legislative session, found herself in another dispute involving her allegedly reneging on a deal with a fellow Democrat. Rep. Janelle Bynum, D-Clackamas, called out Kotek for failing to endorse her bid to succeed the long-term Speaker per an agreement reached before the 2021 legislative session.

Bynum threatened to challenge Kotek’s bid for an unprecedented fifth term as Speaker. Bynum backed off after negotiating with Kotek and winning concessions. One of the concessions, according to Bynum, was a commitment by Kotek to support her subsequent bid for Speaker. Kotek denies making the commitment. Kotek and Bynum both have witnesses to the conversation who verify each side’s claims.

The kerfuffle attracted greater attention because Drazan made a similar bad-faith argument against Kotek during the 2021 legislative session. Kotek agreed to an evenly divided House Redistricting Committee in return for Republicans waiving the requirement to read every bill coming to the House floor for a vote. Later in the session, Kotek named a new committee with a Democratic majority, claiming Republicans were obstructing progress on congressional and legislative redistricting maps. Both maps were passed by mostly party-line votes. And the change provoked Drazan to file her censure resolution, which failed to pass.

As expected, the congressional and legislative redistricting maps, which neutral observers concede favor Democrats, were challenged in court. Both challenges were dismissed last week, clearing the way for candidates to focus their campaigns in their districts, including Oregon’s new Sixth Congressional District.

The Oregon Supreme Court ruled against petitioners challenging new House and Senate districts, calling their claims “unpersuasive, largely because they rely on debatable and unsubstantiated assumptions about the reasons underlying the Legislative Assembly’s actions.” The new legislative districts aren’t expected to topple Democratic control.

A five-judge panel reached a similar conclusion with the more controversial congressional redistricting map that gives Democrats a voter registration edge in five of the six districts, four of which include portions of the Portland metropolitan area.

Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley submitted three candidates out of seven applicants for US Attorney in Oregon, who prosecutes federal crimes in Oregon and defends the federal government in civil suits. All three have previous experience working on a US Attorney staff. The candidates are:

  • Craig Gabriel, an assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Oregon, is chief of the office’s criminal division.
  • Natalie Wight, an assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Oregon, is deputy chief of the office’s organized and violent crime section.
  • Vivek Kothari, who works at the private law firm Markowitz Herbold and previously served as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia.

President Biden nominates US Attorney candidates, which are subject to Senate confirmation. It is established tradition for a state’s senatorial delegation to make recommendations for the job.

In other pre-holiday developments:

  • The Oregon Health Authority ended outdoor masking requirements;
  • Oregon Housing and Community Services paused new applications for federal emergency rental assistance for six weeks beginning December 1;
  • Oregon Environmental Quality Commission adopted new clean truck rules requiring zero-emission vehicles as early as the 2025 model year;
  • Two Oregon lawmakers are seeking $18 million from the legislative Emergency Board to support 570 Afghan refugees expected to come to Oregon by the end of February; and
  • Oregon Parks and Recreation Continued a tradition started in 2015 of waiving fees at 25 state parks that charge parking fees for visitors the day after Thanksgiving.