Oregon's Independent Gubernatorial Candidate Swears She's A Centrist. Her Voting Record Says Otherwise.

Former Democrat Betsy Johnson has a history of voting with progressive opponent Tina Kotek

Oregon independent gubernatorial candidate Betsy Johnson / Twitter screenshot
August 24, 2022

An independent Oregon gubernatorial candidate who pitches herself as a centrist has a history of voting with her progressive opponent.

Betsy Johnson and her Democratic opponent Tina Kotek have each served in the Oregon legislature since the mid-2000s. During that time, Johnson sided with Kotek on bills to decriminalize drugs, reduce incarceration, and impose one of the largest tax hikes in Oregon's history.

The voting record may be a stumbling block for Johnson, who has sought to distance herself from what she's called the "extremes" of partisan politics. The candidate has touted her "cross-party endorsements" and "no-nonsense" approach to crime and homelessness to gain an edge in a tight three-way race against Kotek and former Oregon House minority leader Christine Drazan (R.).

"Oregonians are distrustful of the radical right, and they are terrified of the progressive left," Johnson said during the first gubernatorial debate in July. "There is a thirst for common-sense change."

The same month, Johnson claimed she voted against Oregon's drug decriminalization ballot measure, which she said "without question" worsened the state's "substance abuse problem." But she voted for a law to enforce the measure as a Democratic state senator in June 2021, months before she announced her candidacy. Johnson had served as a Democratic state representative and state senator since 2001 before she announced her run for governor in December.

A spokeswoman for Johnson's campaign told the Washington Free Beacon that the former senator only voted for drug decriminalization "once the fate of the measure was already determined by Oregon voters."

Overdose deaths in Oregon have been on the rise in the last few years, up 40 percent in 2021. Portland, the state's largest city, set an all-time record for homicides last year.

In March, Johnson said her views "have not changed" since she entered the race.

"I still have my core values and those don't change," Johnson said. "I would describe myself as fiscally more conservative; socially very moderate, more to liberal."

In 2017, though, Johnson joined with Oregon governor Kate Brown (D.) to push through a $5 billion infrastructure bill, which the governor hailed as one of her three biggest legislative achievements. The law added a four-cent gas tax increase. Johnson in 2019 also voted for a $2 billion corporate tax, driving up the cost of goods and services for business owners of all stripes in Oregon.

Johnson has also tried to position herself as tough on crime. In a November op-ed, she criticized Brown for signing a sweeping commutation order. But as a state senator, Johnson voted for a law that made nearly a third of the prison population—including convicted murderers—eligible for release as long as they demonstrated good behavior.

The former Democrat has said protecting "a woman's right to choose" is one of three pillars of her campaign. She supports late-term abortions and boasts about having a stronger pro-choice record than Kotek. "I was on a Planned Parenthood board in Oregon before Tina was even an Oregonian," she said.