Betsy Johnson is firmly behind the wheel, driving through an urban dystopia filled with poverty and despair.
“God knows best, we need a real solution to the homeless crisis,” she said bluntly. Tent cities and sidewalks full of rubbish float before us. And it will require new leadership, succession, and a different kind of politics, embracing the best ideas of Democrats and Republicans, regardless of party nomenclature.
“We shouldn’t have to choose,” says Johnson, who is launching an improbably strong bid for the Oregon governor, raising the possibility that the sapphire state will elect a gun-loving, corporate hugger, and awakened political independent. next leader.
Or, just as surprisingly, a Republican, which hasn’t happened since Ronald Reagan has been in the White House.
For all the focus on controlling the House and Senate, there are 36 governorship contests on the November ballot. Its import increased as policies on abortion, weapons, and other issues increasingly diverged, depending on which party held power in a particular country.
Most races are unlikely to lead to a partisan shift. Democrats are preparing to overturn Maryland and Massachusetts after Republicans nominate loyalists to Trump in those blue states.
Republicans hope to oust incumbent Democrats in Kansas, Nevada and Wisconsin, but chances of recovery in Pennsylvania and Michigan may be out of reach after the Republican Party has nominated far-right conservatives in those swing states.
This increased Republican interest in Oregon, which was last elected as a governor for the Republican Party in 1982.
Democrat Tina Kotik, a former state assembly speaker, remains the favorite to win in November, if for no other reason than Democrats and Republican-leaning voters in Oregon.
However, the math of the three-way contest makes it entirely possible to elect the next governor with less than 50% support, opening the door for Johnson or the GOP candidate, Kristen Drazan, to sneak in.
In theory, 35% of the vote might be enough to win, thus ending years of democratic rule along the Left Coast, from Baja California to the Canadian border.
Drazan, the former Republican leader in the state assembly, is fighting hard against one-party rule in Salem, the state capital. “We need real leadership and real change to hold the Democrats accountable,” Drazan said when the three candidates debated in July.
But the only reason she had a chance was because of Johnson’s presence and the hope she might command enough votes away from Kotik.
An heir to a timber fortune, Johnson served 20 years in the legislature, representing rural Oregon as a center-right Democrat before leaving the party and resigning from the state Senate last December to focus on her run for governor.
She likens herself to Goldilocks, neither too far nor too right-handed, but her stinging personality and ruthless attacks on rivals suggest a bit of an innocent fairy-tale character.
Johnson says Drazan “wants to be the first anti-choice governor in Oregon’s history,” undermining the state’s strong support for legal abortion. Kotik, who is vying to become the country’s first ruler who became a lesbian, “wants to bring the culture wars into your children’s classroom. It would have made us all wake up and break us.”
If Oregonians have ever yearned for something new and different, the time may seem right now, as polls show deep discontent and the incumbent, Democrat Kate Brown, has left her position as one of America’s least popular governors.
“People are very worried, angry and worried about the status quo,” said Lynn Bergsten, a public affairs consultant who has been involved in Oregon politics since the 1970s.
After deadly wildfires, years of a pandemic and weeks of right-versus-left protests that turned parts of downtown Portland into an armed camp, Bergstein said, “There are a lot of people who feel we’ve lost our way.”
Johnson exploits those frustrations with her TV ad drive through rotten Portland and her disdainful bipartisan rally. “Oregonians don’t trust the far right,” she says. “And they are terrified of the progressive left.”
Despite all the apparent frustration, Oregon is not Alabama or Arkansas, to name a few, ultra-conservative strongholds, and many of Johnson’s positions are clearly at odds with the state’s political direction.
A proud owner of a Cold War-era submachine gun, she’s responding to the devastation of gun violence by marking the NRA’s talking points about increasing school security and strengthening mental health services.
Her favorite way to combat climate change, and to improve Oregon’s forest management, remembers President Trump’s much-deckered proposal that the country fire up its forests to prevent wildfires.
They sound populist tunes and promise to be a voice for the “angry”, but they have benefited greatly from the support of CEOs and other wealthy people. Phil Knight, the billionaire founder of Nike and Oregon’s richest man, earned $1.75 million, helping Johnson anger her opponents.
For her part, after years in power, Kotik has the unenviable task of convincing voters that no matter how bad things seem, they will get better.
In the end.
“No matter what the other candidates here say today, there are no quick fixes,” the former Democratic House speaker said, opening the first, and so far, only debate on the state’s governor. “There are no magic cures.”
The idea of a benevolent person, who rescues the electorate, sweeps up to bring about bold and dramatic change and rid the political system of its oppression, is a popular and enduring concept. Lots of third-party and independent candidates have tried it. Most of it ends up fading away.
Johnson has already exceeded expectations with strong fundraising and strong exposure in the polls. If she gets a few breaks, she could end up becoming Oregon’s next governor.