Kotek, Johnson Announce Endorsements, Skirmish Over Guns in Wake of Uvalde Shootings

Kotek gets nod from both U.S. senators; Johnson from former congresswoman.

The general election campaign for governor began in earnest this week even as ballots from the May 17 primary remain uncounted in Clackamas County.

Oregon’s two Democratic U.S. senators, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, wasted no time in putting their names behind the Democratic nominee, former House Speaker Tina Kotek of Portland.

In statements explaining their support for Kotek, both senators outlined some of the issues that Kotek’s campaign is likely to press on to contrast her record with those of her opponents, former House Minority Leader Christine Drazan (R-Canby) and former state Sen. Betsy Johnson (D-Scappoose), who is running as an unaffiliated candidate.

“Unlike her opponents, Tina will always put working families first and won’t cater to the corporate special interests,” Merkley said, a clear dig at the large checks Johnson and Drazan have pulled in from Oregon businesses and their executives and owners.

Wyden’s plug included a list of positions on which Kotek will be to the left of both her opponents and, two days after the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, ended with an issue that’s sure to be central to the race: gun rights.

“Tina has listened to Oregonians and then acted in the common interest to find smart solutions that work to improve mental and physical health care, help people get a roof over their heads and a floor under their feet, and provide the fair wages that workers deserve,” Wyden added. “And she has been Oregonians’ champion in the Legislature for rock-solid abortion rights, cleaner energy and common-sense gun legislation.”

The Uvalde killings this week brought the topic of gun control front and center. In 2021, Oregon lawmakers passed a safe gun storage measure, Senate Bill 554. Kotek voted for the bill. Johnson and Drazan voted against it. (Drazan nonetheless incurred the wrath of the Oregon Firearms Federation, which was displeased she let the bill come to the House floor for a vote, rather than leading her caucus in a walkout.)

Kotek and Johnson sparred publicly over those votes on May 25.

Meanwhile, Johnson announced she had the endorsement of former U.S. Rep. Darlene Hooley (D-Ore.) who served Oregon’s 5th Congressional District for six terms from 1997 to 2009. Hooley typifies the moderate Democrat whom Johnson hopes to attract in November.

“Betsy is exactly the kind of straight-talking, no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is candidate that we need to help Oregon get back on track,” Hooley said in a statement. “I am proud to support her and join all those who agree that this is the moment to put Oregon above party politics. Betsy offers the kind of common-sense leadership we need to bring us together for the common good.”