We Asked Candidates: Is Oregon Systemically Racist?

And will candidates for governor allow a public schoolteacher to say so?

SIGN UP: A Black Lives Matter mural in downtown Portland. (Brian Burk)

In the days leading to the confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson as the first Black woman to be appointed Supreme Court justice in U.S. history, spectators were treated to a distillation of what passes for civil discourse in this country.

Republicans, most notably Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, teed up a political smear attempting to link Jackson to critical race theory, a high-level academic concept that is rarely if ever taught in elementary schools but that Republicans have been using as shorthand for anyone who acknowledges the racist systems that are part of the American story.

Republican-dominated legislatures across the country are passing laws banning the teaching of CRT. With Oregon looking at the real possibility of a Republican governor, we asked candidates a more basic question about our home state, systemic racism and whether teachers can discuss that legacy with their students.

WW asked: Do you believe racism is embedded in U.S. and Oregon legal systems and policies? Do you believe teachers should be allowed to say so in the classroom?


Tina Kotek (D)

I love being an Oregonian and an American. I think you can cherish the place you live while also recognizing when people have promoted (or still promote) things that hurt, demean or exclude other people. Our schools should teach the history of our country in an honest, factual way because learning from our past is how we form a more perfect union.

Tobias Read (D)

Our kids are capable of learning, and our teachers are capable of teaching a balanced and nuanced history of race in Oregon and the United States. Efforts to limit that history sell students short. We shouldn’t be afraid of taking on things that are true even if they make us uncomfortable.


Bridget Barton (R)

Even Joe Biden says that he doesn’t think America is a country of racists, but I have always been a supporter of equality and opportunity at all levels of our society. I was a young mom when I started my career advocating for better school options for Oregon parents. As a Republican outsider, I’m not afraid to call the teachers’ unions to the carpet for completely failing our kids by cramming divisive, unnecessary concepts like CRT down our kids’ throats instead of teaching them the basics of reading, math, science, history and, God forbid…civics. There will be no room in the school day for anything but academic essentials and excellence when I’m governor.

Christine Drazan (R)

It is wrong and dangerous to dismantle our institutions brick by brick to advance a political agenda. We have worked hard over many decades to expressly prohibit race-based discrimination, and we should continue to confront it in our society. While there are racists in America, America is not a systemically racist country.

Our schools have an obligation to educate kids about the good, bad and ugly of American history, but political agendas have no place in the classroom. More to the point, students of color are being left behind by our current education system, which has failed to help them achieve at the same level as their peers. That’s the continuing injustice here.

Stan Pulliam (R)

We need a culture shift in focusing education on preparing students for the real world. If I were a 16-year-old aspiring carpenter who spent more time being taught that the color of my skin makes me a victimizer than how to use fractions to measure and cut a piece of crown molding, I’d be less than enthusiastic about school. Curriculum has become overwhelmed with indoctrination—at the expense of education and training—and that needs to stop.

Bob Tiernan (R)

Declined to elaborate.


Betsy Johnson (unaffiliated)

I’d like to give a better answer than the question. Racism is a reality of U.S. and Oregon history and still exists. Oregon’s original constitution banned Blacks from living in Oregon and limited the vote to only white males. We’ve made great progress since then, but must continue to dismantle racism. To do that, we must embrace teaching as an act of education, not as a means of political indoctrination. Schools should not shy away from teaching all of American and Oregon history—the good, the bad and the ugly. As governor, I will promote equal opportunity for all Oregonians.


Bud Pierce (R)

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW's journalism today.