Dependably ‘Blue’ State Oregon Could Elect a Right-Wing, Anti-Abortion Governor

“Oregon is not as blue as everybody thinks it is,” Democratic candidate Tina Kotek, who's in a razor-thin race with a Republican, told Jezebel.

Dependably ‘Blue’ State Oregon Could Elect a Right-Wing, Anti-Abortion Governor
From left: Betsy Johnson, Christine Drazan, and Tina Kotek Photo:Jaime Valdez/Pamplin Media Group (AP)

Oregon is widely regarded as a bastion for progressive politics—a dependably “blue” state year after year. This year, the unabashedly anti-abortion Republican gubernatorial candidate Christine Drazan has a real shot at taking the reins. Cook Political Report now identifies the Oregon gubernatorial race as “Lean D” (a recent and chilling shift from “Likely D”), and the latest poll from the end of June shows pro-abortion rights Democratic nominee Tina Kotek just 1 percent behind Drazan.

This is actually not very rare for Oregon. Kotek reminded Jezebel in an interview that Democrats sweat it out each cycle. “Oregon is not as blue as everybody thinks it is,” she told me. “Every two years, progressives and Democrats have to work really hard” to get elected.

If Republicans do take power in this election cycle—the first since Roe v. Wade was overturned and since Oregon’s neighbor Idaho almost totally banned abortion care—residents of the Beaver State and the entire region could be left scrambling for abortion care.

Kotek, who served as speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives from 2013 until earlier this year, is currently running against two right-wing women candidates for governor. Drazan told local news she would “stand up for life by vetoing legislation designed to push Oregon further outside the mainstream.” The other, “Independent” Betsy Johnson, has an A rating from the NRA, calls “wokeness” a “form of intolerance,” and, despite identifying as pro-choice, insists that state funding shouldn’t help out-of-state abortion seekers.

Kotek is running on a platform that includes helping Idaho abortion seekers—and all out-of-state abortion seekers—as well as supporting the many East Oregonians who previously sought health care (including abortion) across state lines in Idaho. “This is so much more common than people realize,” Kotek said. Idaho’s abortion ban, she emphasized, is a region-wide issue. Her new ad, first shared with Jezebel, zeroes in on reproductive rights.

Kotek, who would be among the first openly LGBTQ governors in the nation (following current Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and Colorado’s Jared Polis), says there are still too many barriers to reach abortion in her state: 78 percent of Oregon counties currently lack an abortion provider.

To address this, Kotek says she helped pass a bill creating a $15 million fund to support Oregonians and out-of-state patients who can’t afford reproductive care like abortion. As for lacking abortion providers, the candidate says she’s been “hearing health care professionals want to move to Oregon because they know they can operate freely and give the kind of care that’s being outlawed in other states.” As governor, she would welcome “an influx of providers.” Expanding the ranks of those who can provide abortion care is key, as we sorely need more abortion providers, especially given the increased threat of criminal charges against providers.

As right-wing and “moderate” candidates (which Johnson claims to be) increasingly come to terms with the unpopularity of abortion bans, we’ll inevitably see more candidates try to market themselves as “middle of the road” on abortion. Just last week, Arizona U.S. Senate candidate Blake Masters deleted a page on his website detailing his support for abortion bans, as did Tom Barrett, the Republican nominee for Michigan’s 7th Congressional district, over the weekend—sensing a pattern?

Frontrunner Drazan has been pretty vague about her specific abortion stances, beyond the ambiguous offering that she’ll “follow existing law.” And it’s simply not enough to wear a “pro-choice” sticker, as Johnson does. Every governor should be exhausting all avenues available to them to expand abortion access for those in their states and abortion seekers from across the country. Governors in 2022 America are either doing everything they can to protect a fundamental human right, or they’re falling short.

“This is no time for halfsies,” Kotek told me. “Abortion access has galvanized voters—especially young voters, young women voters—across the state. And I’m not the only woman, but [I am] the only champion on reproductive freedom in this race.”

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