Image for Three Gubernatorial Candidates Address Rural Issues
Republican Christine Drazan (left), unaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson (center) and Democrat Tina Kotek (right) sat for individual interviews with the Capital Press to discuss issues of importance to rural Oregon.

Closing the Urban-Rural Divide Will Require Listening

All three leading Oregon gubernatorial candidates believe closing the state’s rural-urban divide will involve listening to rural residents on their home turf, based on interviews with each candidate conducted by the Capital Press, an agriculture news site affiliated with the Capital Chronicle.

Betsy Johnson, Christine Drazan and Tina Kotek have been quizzed extensively about urban issues such as homeless camps, including in the first gubernatorial debate. The race has drawn considerable interest because polls show no candidate has a commanding lead and it is the only gubernatorial race in the nation featuring three women who resigned seats in the legislature in their bid for the state’s top job.

Johnson, who served as a Democratic state senator representing Northwest Oregon, is running as an unaffiliated candidate. Drazan, who represented a Clackamas County district and rose to House Republican Leader. Kotek served nearly a decade as Speaker in a Democratically controlled House representing a district in North Portland. None of the three have run for statewide office previously.

Here are clips from their interviews as published by the Capital Press:

Closing the Urban-Rural Divide
Johnson:  “Well, show up… I think being there is important whether you’re making silicon chips, word chips, potato chips or fish and chips. Oregon has different micro-economies that the governor needs to understand.”

Drazan:  “Too often in the public policymaking process, you have folks drive six or eight hours to Salem and testify for two or three minutes. No one asks them questions and their proposals do not change outcomes… Having a Republican governor ensures lawmakers compromise and listen to stakeholders. If they don’t, they’ll get a veto.”

Kotek:  “For me, it is about how you listen to people, making sure you’re out in local communities, engaging with local leaders. As Speaker, it was important for me to represent the entire state… As governor, getting out of Salem more often is important. You bring people together by listening. Every part of the state has a housing problem. That’s not a partisan issue. Water is not a partisan issue.”

Changing Oregon’s Water Rights System
Johnson:  “Our water rights system is very complicated… If there is a problem statement that people agree on, what’s the statement. I would want some collective understanding of what we are solving for.”

Drazan:  “I support our existing water rights system… I don’t think any system is perfect. I do believe in the ability to be flexible.”

Kotek:  “It is the fundamental starting place for how water is utilized in the state. It is the law.” She expressed openness to discuss changes, including a provision that requires a water rights holder to use their full water right for five consecutive years at the risk of forfeiting their right. “How do you have thoughtful conversations about assessing that?”

Managing Forest and Public Lands
Johnson:  “Yes, yes, yes, yes” to prescribed burning, grazing, thinning and logging. She questioned the competency of the Forest Service to plan and manage prescribed burns to avoid turning into wildfires.

Drazan:  “I think we should make more forestlands available for logging. We’re either going to manage our forests or watch them burn.” She recommended using technology to identify where lightning strikes might occur that could ignite wildfires.

The candidates discussed the urban-rural divide, water rights, farmworker overtime pay, low-emission vehicles and forestland management.

Kotek:  “My baseline is to talk to the experts at Oregon State University to understand they think we should be doing” on prescribed burning and forest practices.” She cited the Private Forest Accord between timber and conservation groups as a template for improved forest practices. “I don’t have a particular agenda on logging and grazing because I’m not an expert,” though she noted Oregon needs to build 36,000 new housing units and could benefit by employing Oregon-based mass timber.

Reacting to Oregon’s New Farmworker Overtime Pay Law
(The legislation calling for phased-in farmworker overtime requirements was passed in the 2022 session after Kotek, Johnson and Drazan had resigned their respective legislative seats to run for governor)

Johnson:   “I think this was an overly simple solution to a really complicated issue… Good intentions can’t mandate good jobs. I think we’re going to have all sort of work-around schemes.” She didn’t point to any specific plan to amend the legislation, but suggested it could be limited to wine grape harvesting.

Drazan:  “I look forward to the opportunity to find a more balanced approach. With single-party control, the needs of all stakeholders were not taken into consideration. It does need to be reworked and amended.”

Kotek:  “Before I left the legislature, we were gearing up for this conversation. I listened hard and before leaving the legislature,  I said ‘We have to transition this in a way that helps farmers do their business.’” She expressed openness to extending temporary farmer tax credits to compensate for overtime pay. She also said it would be preferable if federal overtime rules covered farmworkers to level the playing field.

Pushing Zero-Emission Heavy Vehicle Sales
Johnson:  “We need to slow down the timeline. Where’s the infrastructure? I don’t think the technology has caught up with the reality of what exists on the ground – and at what cost. We cannot address Oregon’s minor contribution to global climate change on the backs of rural communities that were asked to unfairly bear the economic cost of implementation.”

Drazan:  “I do not support a mandate around what equipment is used by Oregonians. This move toward electric vehicles doesn’t meet all the needs. There’s not adequate charging infrastructure. The power grid can’t support it. You can’t put the cart before the horse… These political agendas force people off a bridge to nowhere.” She said would support voluntary, incentive-based moves toward low-emission vehicles.

Kotek:  “If we’re going to have new regulations, we have to put public money on the table to help people achieve conversion. We have to transition to cleaner engines. How do you make that happen? I think we have to put more urgency behind our electrification plans as a state. With the federal infrastructure package, we have more resources coming down from the federal government than we’ve ever had.”