Opinion: Why You Should Vote for Tina Kotek
Opinion articles are solely the views of the writer, not The Collegian or Willamette.
In the upcoming Oregon gubernatorial election, three candidates will be running to succeed Kate Brown as governor of Oregon. They are Tina Kotek (Democrat), Christine Drazan (Republican), and Betsy Johnson (Independent). Brown is ineligible for re-election, owing to the two-term limit imposed on state governors.
This election is significant for multiple reasons. The three leading candidates are all women. Furthermore, Kotek, if elected, would become the first openly lesbian governor in U.S. history, a significant step forward in LGBTQ+ representation. The upcoming election is also important, however, because of what is at stake. While Oregon has been a solidly blue state for several decades, with the Democratic party having won every gubernatorial election since 1982, Drazan’s candidacy may well upend this trend. Until recently, Kotek was tipped as the favorite to succeed Brown as governor. But in the last few weeks, Kotek’s poll lead has evaporated, and the election now looks like a toss-up between the two major-party candidates. According to a poll conducted at time of writing (Oct. 19), Drazan is polling at 37.7%, 2.7% ahead of her Democratic rival. Though independent candidate Johnson is polling at only 16.2%, her presence in the race could split the final vote, opening up a path to victory for Drazan and thus spelling trouble for Kotek’s campaign.
Drazan’s campaign surge can be attributed to several key factors. It could be indicative of the broader national realignment toward conservative politics instigated by the Republican party under President Donald Trump. Nike co-founder Phil Knight’s public endorsement of Drazan and decision to donate $1.5 million to her campaign (after having initially contributed $3.75 million to the Johnson campaign before switching allegiance) has also undoubtedly raised the former representative’s profile among Oregonians.
Kotek’s recent polling upset could be attributed to both these reasons, as well as discontent among Oregon voters over specific policies of the current Democratic administration. As reported in The New York Times, the homicide rate in Portland has reached a record high in recent years. The issue of gun violence in particular has increasingly gained public attention. So, too, has the rate of homelessness, which remains a worrying problem in Portland and other cities across the state. Such issues have cast doubt on Brown’s governorship, and have likely contributed, in part, to her current standing as the nation’s least popular state governor. Public disaffection may provide a groundswell of support for Drazan’s agenda, which includes her opposition to abortion, gun control, and climate legislation, among other things.
I spoke to Seth Cotlar, a professor of history at Willamette University and an expert on the political right in the U.S. While he agrees that Drazan’s polling is concerning, he opined that the probability of her beating Kotek is still low. For one, opinion polls are “not always accurate” and so should not be taken at face value. Furthermore, Cotlar stressed that support for Oregon senator Ron Wyden (who is up for reelection for his fifth term on Nov. 8 as well) remains “high.” It is “unlikely” that the same people who decide to vote for Wyden in the senate election would vote for Drazan in the gubernatorial election. Such a disparity would be unprecedented, based on Oregonians’ past electoral behavior. Historical trends ought not to encourage complacency, however.
I also spoke to Sophia Rosenberg (‘25), an environmental science major here at Willamette and a volunteer for the Kotek campaign. Rosenberg says that this is the “first competitive campaign” for the Oregon governor “in over a decade,” and stresses how critical it is that people between the ages of 18-30 (who form the most progressive, but also most apathetic, demographic of voters statewide) turn out to vote for Kotek. Among Kotek’s most favorable qualities, Rosenberg argues, is her support for climate justice. During her time as a state representative, she has been a “champion on climate-related issues'' and has been influential in shaping current climate legislation, which, according to Rosenberg, is among the “best in the country.”
Furthermore, like Kotek, Rosenberg identifies as gay, and so, were Kotek to become governor, they would feel represented by a politician “like never before.” Rosenberg also highlights Kotek’s grassroots support: she is an authentic candidate, whose opinions are “her own” and are not funded by big oil, gas, timber and other industrial interests. Her campaign has elicited support from progressive groups, including the Oregon League of Conservation Voters (OLCV) and SEIU, a labor union representing public service and care workers across the state. This is in contrast to Drazan, whose religious, pro-life stance on abortion, for example, is both reactionary and out of step with the opinion of most Oregon voters, who support a woman’s right to bodily autonomy. If elected governor, Kotek will staunchly defend a woman’s right to an abortion, a right that is valuable not just to Oregonians but also to many Idahoans who, hailing from a conservative state, have sought Oregon as a sanctuary for reproductive rights. Rosenberg also emphasizes other progressive measures taken by Kotek during her time in political office, including her key role in increasing the minimum wage to one of the highest of any U.S. state.
Amid one of the most fraught and critical periods in this country’s political history, both her record and endorsements prove that Kotek is the governor whom Oregon not only needs, but whom most Oregon voters want. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade earlier this year, reproductive rights in particular are under siege across the nation. So, too, is the environment, which, if given the chance, Republicans like Drazan will continue to neglect and, in doing so, drive Americans further toward climate catastrophe. These are issues of monumental importance to which only someone like Kotek has a tangible response. While I can’t personally vote in this election, I’m confident that her progressive program makes her a prime candidate who will represent the interests not of the wealthy and powerful, but of the average Oregonian.