Sen. Betsy Johnson Resigns From Legislature to Focus Full Time on Governor’s Race

In a video explaining her decision, the 20-year lawmaker offers subtle contrasts with leading opponents.

State Sen. Betsy Johnson (D-Scappoose) today made it all but official she’ll run for Oregon governor next year.

Johnson, who won a House seat in 2000 and later moved up to the Senate in 2005, has been raising money aggressively ($2.1 million so far this year) but has not yet officially filed to run for governor (the filing deadline isn’t until March 8).

But she said in a brief video today that, following yesterday’s special legislative session, she’ll give up her seat Dec. 15 rather than serve through next year, which includes an even-year truncated legislative session.

“Northwest Oregon deserves a full-time state senator, and running for governor is a full-time job,” Johnson said. She added that legislating “has never been a part-time job for me.”

That characterization might offend lawmakers for whom legislating is necessarily a part-time job because of their need to earn a living (Johnson is a wealthy timber heiress and runs an aviation company with her husband). It could also be seen as a dig at House Speaker Tina Kotek (D-Portland), who is running in the Democratic primary.

Unlike Johnson, Kotek will likely hold onto her seat, at least through the 35-day session that begins Feb. 1. Assuming she remains speaker through that session, Kotek will benefit from the power and attention her position affords, but will suffer because House rules prohibit fundraising while the Legislature is in session. (Kotek currently trails her two leading opponents in the money race for the Democratic primary for governor, having raised $512,000 so far this year compared with former journalist Nicholas Kristof’s $1.99 million and State Treasurer Tobias Read’s $664,000.)

Since she’s running as an unaffiliated candidate, Johnson will not face an expensive and potentially bruising primary like her Democratic and Republican peers. (The GOP field includes Salem oncologist Dr. Bud Pierce, Sandy Mayor Stan Pulliam, Baker City Mayor Kerry McQuisten, political consultant Bridget Barton, Medford businesswoman Jessica Gomez, and state Rep. Christine Drazan of Canby.)

Johnson finished her brief remarks by calling herself a “daughter of Oregon,” a time-honored political tactic of emphasizing one’s roots when it’s advantageous. Kotek grew up in Pennsylvania, Read in Idaho, and Kristof, although he grew up in Yamhill, was born in Chicago and spent most of his adult life away from Oregon.

Another important signal: the clothes Johnson wore for her video.

Like Kristof, who counts among his leading backers Columbia Sportswear chief administrative officer Peter Bragdon and makes public appearances in Columbia gear, Johnson sported a Columbia Sportswear down vest, a nod to one of her biggest contributors, Columbia CEO Tim Boyle.