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Politics & Government

Oregon state Sen. Betsy Johnson will resign to focus on governor run

Oregon state Sen. Betsy Johnson.
Kaylee Domzalski
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Oregon state Sen. Betsy Johnson.

Johnson is hoping to do what no one has done in nearly a century: Win the governor's office as an independent candidate.

State Sen. Betsy Johnson says she can’t attempt to break Democrats’ dominance of the governor’s office and serve in the Legislature at the same time.

So as she mounts a gubernatorial bid unaffiliated with any party, the Warren Democrat said in a video announcement Tuesday she will step down Dec. 15, after 20 years as a lawmaker.

“My reason is simple: Northwest Oregon deserves a full-time state senator, and running for governor is a full-time job,” Johnson said.

With her departure, Johnson will cease to represent a swath of Oregon she’s served since 2001. In that time, the political moderate has frequently cast her lot with Republicans on issues like gun control, taxes and climate change.

She also wielded huge influence, serving for several years as a co-chair of the Legislature’s powerful budget-writing committee. Johnson lost that position after announcing in October she would leave the Democratic Party, of which she has been critical.

“Having to choose between another left-wing liberal promising more of the same or a right-wing Trump apologist — is no choice at all,” Johnson said at the time.

According to online voter registration records, Johnson is still registered as a Democrat.

With her departure from the Senate, Democratic Party officials within Johnson’s district will choose a slate of nominees to fill out the remainder of her term, which runs through 2022. Commissioners for counties included in Johnson’s Senate District 16 – Clatsop, Columbia, Tillamook, Washington and Multnomah – will then pick a replacement.

Johnson says the appointee should not be interested in holding the office long term.

“I hope the party officials and county commissioners who select my replacement will do the wise thing and choose someone who is dedicated a hundred percent to serving and service and not to the politics running for election next year, whether casting a vote in Salem or helping to solve local problems,” she said in her announcement.

In stepping down, Johnson is diverging from potential rivals in the race for governor. Both House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, and state Rep. Christine Drazan, R-Canby, continue to serve in the Legislature as they run for the office.

Johnson’s path to office as an independent is uncertain – Democrats and Republicans alike think she’s far more likely to play spoiler for one party or the other than win the governor’s mansion. But her boosters hope she can thread the needle, offering a business-friendly option for Republican voters who haven’t seen one of their candidates win the governorship since 1982, and pulling in nonaffiliated voters and Democrats who think the state is off track.

As a nonaffiliated candidate, Johnson will not need to run a primary race to make the November 2022 ballot. Instead, she has to collect roughly 23,750 valid signatures from Oregon voters. She should have plenty of money to get her message across; she’s already raised more than $2.1 million.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.