In the Democratic primary for Oregon governor, Tina Kotek is the clear frontrunner, endorsed by the Democratic establishment locally and even nationally. During her time as Speaker of the Oregon House, much of that time enjoying a Democratic supermajority, she gained a reputation as being tough and dogged in getting things done. That's a good thing—mostly. That dogged reputation also led to the notorious Republican walkouts and enduring ire from the conservative factions of the state. Yet any woman in leadership knows this song: Be too tough and you'll get blamed. Be too soft and you'll get blamed, too. The Republican walkouts were a result of a dogged pursuit of a climate change agenda that was never going to please certain people—but we'd hope, as the primaries morph into the general election, that Kotek will take the lessons from that period in Oregon's history and use it to re-shape her approach toward more listening and conciliation going forward.
Recent polling shows that Democrats are in a world of hurt in Oregon. Many feel disconnected or disenfranchised and blame the Democratic supermajority for the state's woes. While we feel that Kotek is the Democrats' strongest option going into the general election, any Democrat running in that general election is going to have to demonstrate a strong willingness to bring together varying sides. If she wants to move beyond her reputation as being Kate Brown 2.0, Kotek will need to say more than, "I don't want to look back," as she told us during her endorsement interview, regarding the ire created throughout two years of COVID restrictions, and to get real about reining in any extended emergency powers of the governor. She'll have to work hard to form coalitions with people on varying sides of the political aisle and prove to Oregonians that she's not just a bulldog "divider" advancing a supermajority agenda, but a "uniter" who charts a way forward that makes all Oregonians feel heard.
Kotek's history in working toward real solutions to address the housing crisis is one place she can truly rest on her laurels. The advent of House Bill 2001—which allows for multi-family housing in areas previously only zoned single-family—was a landmark bill that we believe will help transform our communities and get more housing units built sooner. While some NIMBY types will take umbrage with the possibility of seeing that four-plex built in their neighborhoods, largely, the bill is something Kotek can lean on as an effort to solve one of Oregon's biggest problems. She was also instrumental in getting Project Turnkey funded—which opened up former motels as homeless shelters, something we have seen positively impact people in our community already. It is due to creative solutions like this that we place our endorsement with Kotek.
Her biggest challenger, State Treasurer Tobias Read, has some good ideas, including bringing more accountability to the many "good ideas" that come from the Oregon legislative body. While we agree with Read's assertion that follow-up in things like Oregon's rollout of the treatment programs promised under the voter-approved Measure 110 is sorely lacking, we don't find his primary solution—to call for resignations—to be especially compelling. Read's agenda, which includes more gun control and focus on K-12 education, is in line with our editorial board's values, but the policy positions read like something that was formulated pre-pandemic.
Times are dire and the coming years are going to be a battleground in many respects. Kotek should pay attention to what the purple—and red—factions of the state are saying and adjust accordingly if she has a hope of winning in November. For now, she's the biggest heavy in this Democratic fight.