POLITICS

Democrat Tina Kotek declares victory, pledges to work on homelessness as Oregon governor

PORTLAND — A beaming Tina Kotek, hand-in-hand with her wife, skipped down a set of concrete steps lined with supporters at Portland’s waterfront Thursday morning to claim victory in the race for Oregon governor. 

The Associated Press hasn’t yet called the race, but Kotek, a Democrat and former speaker of the Oregon House, led Republican Christine Drazan by almost 55,000 votes as of midday Thursday. At least 200,000 ballots remain to be counted, and an unknown number of additional ballots that were postmarked by Election Day will be counted if they arrive at county election offices by next Tuesday.

The Oregonian/OregonLive and Oregon Public Broadcasting both called the race for Kotek on Wednesday, and she claimed victory Wednesday evening after her lead continued to grow. During a press conference flanked by supporters Thursday, she pledged to immediately get to work on her transition. 

“I am honored and humbled by this opportunity to serve, and I will strive every day to be a force for positive change in our state,” Kotek said. “Now the election is over, and the really hard work begins.”

Kotek said she spoke Thursday morning with Drazan and Betsy Johnson, a nonaffiliated candidate and former Democratic state senator who captured about 9% of the vote, and described the conversations as “cordial.” 

“I commend them for their public service and their hard-fought campaigns,” she said. “I let them know that I’m going to focus on the problems that all three of us agree need fixing.”

Johnson conceded Tuesday after preliminary results were announced. 

On Thursday, Drazan’s campaign spokesman didn’t respond to a call or email asking about Kotek’s conversation, but the campaign released a statement from Drazan declining to concede. Online, Drazan supporters have flooded the Twitter “#orpol” hashtag with baseless claims of election fraud.

“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,” the statement said. “Oregonians should have confidence that their votes will be counted as our county clerks continue their diligent work.”

Kotek, meanwhile, said the Oregonian’s projection and her own team’s analysis of votes made it clear that more Oregon voters picked her. The two news outlets said they were calling the race based on the tens of thousands of outstanding ballots in Multnomah County, where 70% of those counted have been for Kotek.

With about 60 days before Oregon’s next governor takes office, Kotek said it was important to get to work. 

Outgoing Gov. Kate Brown congratulated Kotek in a tweet, calling her an advocate for working families who will fight to ensure every Oregonian has a chance at a better future. 

 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tina Kotek is mobbed by kids in downtown Portland on Nov. 10, 2022. Photo by (Jordan Gale/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

Focus on three areas

Kotek named Tim Inman, her former chief of staff in the state House, to lead her transition team. Inman will take a leave of absence from his job as university secretary of the University of Oregon Board of Trustees.

Inman grew up on a farm in Elmira, an unincorporated community west of Eugene. Kotek said his collaborative approach will help as she strives to be a good governor for all of Oregon, including the hundreds of thousands of voters who chose a candidate other than her. 

She said she’ll begin her term focused on three big things: declaring a homelessness state of emergency to marshal resources to help Oregonians move off the streets, expanding access to mental health and addiction services and working to bridge the state’s division by spending time in communities throughout Oregon. 

And she said she’ll stay focused on the people at the center of complex issues. Kotek named some of the people she met on the campaign trail, including a Eugene custodian worried about his wages not keeping pace with the cost of living, a Bend abortion access helpline volunteer concerned about the people she helps, a Hermiston shop teacher who wants to make sure his students have funding for career and technical education and an Applegate Valley farmer who wants immediate action to address climate change and drought. 

She said she’ll also support legislative efforts to reform Oregon’s campaign finance system and citizen-led campaign finance reform initiatives if the Legislature doesn’t act. Democratic interest groups helped block proposals from the ballot this year. The race for governor was the most expensive in Oregon’s history, with Kotek, Johnson and Drazan raising more than $60 million combined. 

Republicans gained some ground in the Oregon Legislature, but Democrats will retain majorities in the state House and Senate.

Kotek also addressed her likely status as one of the nation’s first two openly lesbian governors. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, who won her gubernatorial election Tuesday, is the other. 

“I didn’t run for this job to be that first, but I can tell you that being who I am is important to Oregonians across the state,” Kotek said. “Lots of young people have come up to me and said ‘Thank you for running and thank you for being who you are.’”

As she left, Kotek ran into a group of young people excited to see her. Some students from an elementary school class walking by the crowd of supporters as it dispersed recognized her. With a few yells of “Tina!” and an explanation from one teacher that that was Oregon’s next governor, the children swarmed, crowding and hugging Kotek as she stopped to greet them. 

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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Julia Shumway has reported on government and politics in Iowa and Nebraska, spent time at the Bend Bulletin and most recently was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix. An award-winning journalist, Julia most recently reported on the tangled efforts to audit the presidential results in Arizona.