State Senator Betsy Johnson is running for governor, but not with his current political party.
In a long-rumored move, the Senate’s most moderate Democrat told supporters today that she is running as a non-affiliated candidate, not as part of any party.
“Having to choose between another left-wing liberal who promises more of the same or a right-wing Trump apologist is no choice at all,” Johnson wrote in an email to supporters. “Oregonians deserve better than the exaggerations and nonsense of the extreme left and radical right … That is why I have decided to run for governor as an independent leader with no affiliation with any party and only loyal to the Oregon people.”
Johnson’s pending candidacy has been a curiosity for political observers for several months and will prove to be an intriguing factor in what is expected to be a hypercompetitive race for governor. Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat who has held the state’s highest office since 2015, is limited in time to seek re-election.
While third-party candidates and independent candidates are often a reflection of the Oregon election, Johnson, 70, has been making connections across the state for two decades in legislation. She is also a wealthy timber heir and is connected to other people by means that will be able to ensure that her message is out before the voters, political observers say.
How it breaks for the candidates for the two major parties — whether Johnson might lure moderate Democrats to Republican advantage or attract Republicans with a more political midterm message — has been a matter of speculation. In her message to supporters Thursday, Johnson suggested she would rely on her famous clear and direct style.
“I want to be a no-nonsense leader with the backbone and life experience to tame the partisan exaggerations and with humility to know that delivering results means more than who gets credit,” the email said. “As governor, I want to force the two parties to work together to bring Oregon ahead of a narrow party policy.”
Non-affiliated candidates in Oregon face a different path to the November 2022 election than those affiliated with major parties. Instead of fighting for the Democratic nomination against a growing list of candidates in the May primary, Johnson only needs to collect about 23,750 valid signatures, equivalent to 1% of the state-wide votes in the 2020 general election.
Johnson says she will start the campaign after the first of the year.
Originally from central Oregon, Johnson lives in Scappoose and has represented the North Coast since 2001. In recent years, she has served as one of the legislature’s leading budget writers, a strong position that gives her an oversized impact on government spending.
Johnson votes with Republicans more than any other Democrat, and in recent years has opposed major Democratic bills to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and introduce more gun control measures.
Johnson could well see her flag of influence in the years to come if she stays in the law. Senate President Peter Courtney, a Salem Democrat and the longest-serving lawmaker in the state’s history, is widely expected to retire after his current term. There is a very real chance that the Democrat, who then fills the Senate presidential role, will be more politically liberal than Courtney and would not pressure Johnson to control the budget.
“Be sure that my bedrock values do not change. “I grew up in a moderate Republican family and became a Democrat because the Republican Party had moved too far to the right,” Johnson wrote in his statement. “For twenty years, I have been an independent, optional, pro-job Democrat who proudly serves the people of northwestern Oregon.”
Johnson’s announcement helps bring the governor’s race into clearer focus. Earlier this week, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof signaled that he would likely seek the Democratic nomination in the race and form a candidate committee. Kristof has also resigned from his long-standing position in the Times, paper reporter on Thursday.
If Kristof jumps in as expected, he will join Yamhill County Commissioner Casey Kulla, House Speaker Tina Kotek, treasurer Tobias Read and others fighting to become the Democratic nominee.
On the Republican side, Salem oncologist and former Republican candidate Bud Pierce is running alongside Sandy Mayor Stan Pulliam, political consultant Bridget Barton, Ashland businesswoman Jessica Gomez, Baker City Mayor Kerry McQuisten and others.