The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Tina Kotek fends off two challengers in Oregon gubernatorial race

The Democrat prevailed in a closely watched race

Oregon hasn't elected a Republican governor in 40 years, a streak Democratic Tina Kotek keeps intact. (Dave Killen/AP)

Democrat Tina Kotek is projected to win the tight race for Oregon governor.

The former speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives defeated Republican Christine Drazan, a former state lawmaker, and Betsy Johnson, a former Democratic state lawmaker who left the party and ran as an unaffiliated candidate.

Kotek will replace Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) — who is term-limited — after surviving a hard-fought race in a state that hasn’t elected a Republican governor in 40 years. With the victory, Kotek is now one of two women — along with Maura Healey in Massachusetts (D) — who will become the country’s first openly lesbian governors.

During her nearly decade-long tenure in the state legislature, Kotek played a key role in expanding abortion access, increasing Oregon’s minimum wage, investing $50 million in clean energy and passing legislation that guarantees sick leave for all Oregon workers.

Tina Kotek’s historic campaign meets Oregon at a crossroads

And while Kotek’s experience could have once made her gubernatorial bid an easy one, divisions and bitterness lingering over the pandemic policies enacted by Brown, a mounting housing crisis and fallout from Portland’s intense racial justice protests following George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis heightened the stakes in the state that Joe Biden won by nearly 16 points in 2020.

Oregon Republicans attacked Democrats by claiming they were taking no action against crime, and Kotek struggled to distance herself from the attack that Democrats want to defund the police. Drazan, meanwhile, campaigned on improving Oregon’s public school system, declaring a state of emergency related to homelessness and repealing a 2020 drug decriminalization law while increasing funding for police and prosecutors.

Though the race call didn’t come until Thursday evening, Kotek declared victory on Wednesday, saying in a news release that she looked forward to working to solve Oregon’s problems.

She again celebrated victory at a news conference Thursday in Portland, noting that she had spoken to Drazan and Johnson and told them she would work to address the problems on which they campaigned.

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Kotek said in her Thursday remarks that she was honored and humbled by the opportunity to serve as Oregon’s next governor.

GOP looks to gain edge in Oregon with public safety top of mind

“I ask my fellow Oregonians, no matter who you voted for, or even whether you voted at all, to believe in our state and our future,” she said. “Please, be engaged so we can all help solve problems together.”

Kotek said that, once she takes office, she will focus “on three things first”: Declaring a state of emergency over the state’s homeless crisis, expanding access to mental health and addiction treatment services and working to “bridge the divisions in our state.”

Anne Branigin and Camilla DeChalus contributed to this report.

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