Tina Kotek’s Former Boss at the Oregon Food Bank Is Supporting Betsy Johnson

Rachel Bristol explains why.

At the first debate of the three candidates for Oregon governor, Democrat Tina Kotek talked about her first job in politics—one that set the tone for her rise to become the longest-serving House speaker in Oregon history.

“I began public service at the Oregon Food Bank,” Kotek said at the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association debate July 29.

“I was attracted to their mission to end hunger, not just feed people,” Kotek explains on her campaign website. “And because I was raised as a person of faith with a belief in the inherent value of everyone, I knew I had found my calling as an advocate for others. I listened and learned and fought for ways to reduce food insecurity.”

But as Kotek seeks to distinguish herself from GOP nominee Christine Drazan and unaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson, Rachel Bristol, who co-founded the Food Bank and hired Kotek there, is supporting Johnson. Not only that: Bristol, who retired as CEO in 2012 after 22 years at the food bank, is gathering signatures to put Johnson on the ballot.

“Ms. Bristol can, of course, support whoever she wants,” says Kotek’s spokeswoman, Katie Wertheimer. “We would ask voters to consider the fact that Betsy Johnson is a staunch conservative who voted against efforts to address the root causes of hunger.”

We asked Bristol what changed.

WW: Why are you supporting Johnson instead of Kotek?

Rachel Bristol: I guess I’m yearning for the days of yore when we had statesmen and stateswomen who could talk and negotiate rather than just bully the other side. I just feel that Tina has gone to extremes and that the policies under her leadership have put us where we are, which is in a horrible place. This is not the Portland and Oregon that I grew up in and love.

Have you shared those concerns with Kotek?

No, I haven’t. To be clear, Tina did good work for us at the food bank. She created the idea of the Voices Project to get people who were experiencing hunger to tell their stories in a way statistics can’t. And I helped her when she first ran for the Legislature. But I see the state wasting so much money and not being effective in solving the bigger problems.

What do your friends say about your helping Johnson?

It has surprised people. But I think older voters and property owners and more of my Democratic friends are feeling like I am. [Bristol switched her party affiliation from Democrat to Independent in 2021.] I’ve known Betsy more than half my life. There were times I thought she leaned more right than left, but overall, she’s been a true moderate, and I’ve seen her work with both sides in a way that I haven’t seen from others in leadership positions.