Betsy Johnson qualifies as nonaffiliated gubernatorial candidate for November ballot

Longtime Oregon lawmaker Betsy Johnson has qualified to appear on the November ballot as a nonaffiliated candidate for governor.

On Thursday afternoon, the Oregon Elections Division notified Johnson that enough signatures on her nominating petitions had been verified to qualify her as a candidate, and that her name would be printed on the Nov. 8 general election ballot.

She is competing in an unusual three-way race against the Democratic nominee, former House Speaker Tina Kotek, and the Republican nominee, former state House Minority Leader Christine Drazan.

“Damn straight. This is a momentous day for Oregon,” Johnson said in a statement. “We have an incredible opportunity this year to reject the extremes and elect an independent governor who will put Oregonians first. I am the only candidate running to lead this state who will both protect a woman’s right to choose and keep our streets safe.”

In Oregon, people who don’t belong to a major party may run for partisan office in one of two ways: a one-day election assembly or by a petition of registered voters.

Johnson was required to submit 23,744 valid signatures, or 1% of all votes cast for president in Oregon in the most recent presidential election. The longtime Democrat turned in 17 boxes of signature sheets on the steps of the Secretary of State’s Office on Aug. 16, the deadline. She boasted turning in more than twice the required number of signatures: 48,214.

To collect the signatures, Johnson used volunteers, the “Betsy Brigade,” and paid more than $200,000 to a Washington signature gathering firm, Initiative & Referendum Campaign Management Services, to hire signature gatherers. Some canvassers were hired through Craigslist with ads offering $1,000 weekly or $25 per hour.

The process for verifying signatures for nonaffiliated candidates is similar to the process of qualifying ballot measures, according to Ben Morris, communication director for the Oregon Secretary of State. Ten percent of the signatures turned in were selected at random for verification, with the names and addresses compared against voter registration information on file with the Secretary of State’s Office.

Morris said it’s the first time in recent memory someone has qualified to run for governor in Oregon via a nominating petition.

Johnson has the lead in fundraising, bolstered by several large donations from Oregon business leaders like Nike co-founder Phil Knight ($1.75 million) and former Columbia Sportswear president Tim Boyle ($200,000). Johnson has collected about $10.5 million, according to Portland Record, a campaign finance site. That compares with Kotek’s $7.2 million and Drazan’s $6.1 million.

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Garrett Andrews covers justice, health and social services. Before joining the Oregon Capital Chronicle, he worked for 14 years at newspapers in Colorado and Oregon. He has a master's degree in political science from the University of Colorado-Denver.