Phil Knight Reflects on Political Contributions in CNBC Interview as Kotek Declares Victory

The Nike co-founder backed Betsy Johnson and Christine Drazan to no avail.

Nike co-founder and chairman emeritus Phil Knight talked to CNBC today about Oregon’s election results, including his reaction to Democrat Tina Kotek’s widening lead in the race for governor.

Knight had given the unaffiliated candidate for governor Betsy Johnson $3.75 million and, when it became clear Johnson would not win, shifted his support to Republican candidate Christine Drazan, giving her $1.5 million.

In addition, Knight gave $2 million to the Bring Balance to Salem PAC. That PAC spent more than $4 million in support of GOP legislative candidates. Republicans are on track to pick up seats in both chambers, an outcome better for Knight than the results on the governor’s race, where Kotek leads Drazan by 3.4%, a lead that should widen as late ballots are counted.

“I’m disappointed in the result but not disappointed that I tried,” Knight told CNBC about his $5.25 million expenditure on the governor’s race. He seemed fine with the fact that Nike had supported Kotek, giving her $75,000. “I don’t expect everybody to agree with me,” Knight said.

Knight said he was motivated to contribute to Kotek’s rivals by the conditions he saw in Oregon under Democratic leadership.

“Growing up here, the public schools here were excellent,” Knight mused. “I lived in a suburb of Portland, and you left the doors unlocked at night. It was just a safe, really great place.”

He contrasted the Oregon of his youth with the rise in Portland’s gun violence over the past two years. “It had more murders per capita than Chicago,” he said. (That was true in a 2021 comparison of homicide rates for the Black populations of those cities.) “They have a huge homeless problem, a huge drug addiction problem.”

Watch the CNBC interview with Knight (about five minutes) here.

Although Knight essentially conceded the election (which The Oregonian and other media have called for Kotek), Drazan still held out hope, issuing a statement at 1:12 pm Nov. 10 that she wasn’t yet ready to admit defeat.

“With several hundred thousand ballots yet to be counted, we continue to exercise patience as we await additional clarity regarding the final outcome of this race,” Drazan said. “Oregonians should have confidence that their votes will be counted as our county clerks continue their diligent work.”

The problem for Drazan: By midday Thursday, Kotek’s margin had continue to widen (to about 55,000 votes), and a disproportionate share of the remaining ballots appear to be in Multnomah and Washington counties, where Kotek is running well ahead of Drazan.

For her part, Kotek held a press conference Thursday morning at the Salmon Springs Fountain in Tom McCall Waterfront Park on Thursday morning. In front of a cheering crowd of supporters, Kotek said she’d had cordial phone calls with Johnson and Drazan.

“We believe in the same things,” Kotek said, adding her promise to “be a governor for all Oregonians.”

But Kotek made it clear the race is over, and she’s ready to move forward with the 60-day transition to becoming governor. She announced that Tim Inman, formerly her chief of staff in the Legislature and now a senior official at the University of Oregon, will serve as her transition director.

Kotek said she has established three immediate priorities: (1) She will declare a homelessness state of emergency; (2) she will act to expand access to addiction and mental health services; and (3) she will work to bridge the divide that separates blue and red Oregon.

During the campaign, all three leading candidates focused their campaigns on Portland’s struggles, and Kotek said she hopes to meet with Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler as soon as next week to explore how they can work together.

“Oregon faces big issues, but they are all about people,” Kotek told the crowd. “No matter who you voted for—be engaged.”