How logging, a Nike founder, and the alt-right warped the Oregon governor’s race

Oregon has been a blue state since 1982, but it has not elected a Republican governor. This cycle could see Republicans win due to the divided field and frustration with the incumbent governor.

The race for Oregon governor seems to be a generic version of Republicans’ midterm strategy. Republican Christine Drazan, like other GOP candidates, has attacked Tina Kotek over the economy, crime, and tied her with the sitting governor. Poor performance by Kate Brown.

This cycle is not about the backlash against the ruling party in Oregon or concerns about crime and economic growth. Unaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson has attracted around 14 percent of polling. This unusual race is also the result of a long campaign by a few special interests trying to control the state.

The state’s partisan division over climate action is at the heart of this campaign. The state has been struggling for years with a conservative minority who has succeeded in stalling cap-and trade and conservation policies. Alt-right extremists have made Oregon a hotbed of their activities, with Timber Unity being one such grassroots group. It has also been home to several alt-right militia leaders.

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Perhaps the most important thing is that Phil Knight, co-founder of Nike, is the state’s wealthiest man. He could tip the scales in Drazan’s favor. He’s funneled millions of dollars to Johnson and Drazan despite his role as climate champion.

Timber Unity’s influence, Knight’s donations and Knight’s support may just be what is needed to elect a Republican. If Drazan wins Oregon would be the first West state to reverse its progress on climate goals.

Steve Pedery, of the Oregon Wildlife Conservation Leaders Fund (an environmental PAC), stated that “who’s in governor’s office is really who gets to flip off the switch on all of our climate actions.”

According to FiveThirtyEight calculations, Drazan is virtually tied with Kotek in October’s polling. This suggests Drazan may win. Pedery suggested that Drazan could win.

He said, “If it works in Oregon then it can be replicated.”

Recent climate battles have prompted a turbulent governor’s race

Oregon is nationally known for its solid blue color, but internal politics in Oregon are more complex. The state’s environmental politics are the most problematic. This is because, outside of blue Portland, the eastern region of Oregon is home to both old growth forests and a large log industry.

Pedery stated that timber is to Oregon the same as coal is to West Virginia. “All of our right-wing causes are funded by legacy logging money,” Pedery said.

Because of its power, the timber industry is able to make for unusual politics that are not typical of the left-right divide over climate change. Many Democrats, including Sen. Joe Manchin from West Virginia, are supported and aided by an industry that opposes climate-change policies.

Johnson is one of these politicians. Johnson is an independent and voted repeatedly against climate bills while she was a Democrat at the state chamber. Johnson is what state environmentalists call a “timbercrat”, a close ally to the logging industry, and herself a beneficiary from a logging family fortune.

The history of the timber-Democratic alliance dates back to decades. However, the long-standing dynamics of the timber-Democratic alliance have been altered by a rising number of political extremists living in timber-rich regions and a powerful right-wing PAC, Timber Unity, that represents Oregonians involved with logging, trucking and farming.

With the support of Timber Unity, 11 Republican legislators fled the state capitol in 2019 to avoid a vote regarding a cap and trade bill. They were just enough to stop the vote. The Democratic Governor. Brown sent state troopers to demand that the Republicans “return to the jobs they were elected for.” The bill was defeated by just one vote. Johnson and three other Senate Democrats voted against it.

Democrats attempted to pass climate legislation again in 2020. Republicans followed the same strategy, but Drazan was the newcomer to state legislature. The House Speaker, Kotek, attempted to pass the climate bills. Johnson was the crucial vote that stopped the cap-and trade legislation from being put to a vote. It never went to a vote for 2020.

Timber Unity was a key player in the chaos. It egged on the opposition to the bill, and encouraged the GOP’s walkouts. Timber Unity had by that time grown rapidly to become a legitimate power broker in the state, despite its founders’ connections to white nationalist militia interests. Its influence helped rallies truck drivers to support the walkouts at the capitol. Additionally, its reach gave the impression that the GOP’s oppositional tactics were the will of large sections of Oregon residents.

These ultimately successful walkouts helped Drazan rise in the public eye, while Oregon lost its chance to pass climate legislation in 2020.

The gubernatorial race is changing because of the fallout from the walkouts

Each candidate’s platform on climate is a natural extension of their roles in the walkouts. Kotek has promised to continue developing state’s climate goals. Drazan has argued such policies are a drag to the state economy, and that the limited executive actions taken by the current governor should be reversed. Johnson also pledges to repeal the governor’s cap&trade policies if elected.

In polling, Johnson is far behind Drazan and Kotek. Because Knight, co-founder of Nike and chair emeritus, is the richest man in the state, Johnson has remained in the race for so long.

Johnson’s campaign has been flooded with $3.75million in cash and $2 million to a PAC that aims to elect more Republicans to the Oregon legislature. Johnson was singlehandedly flooded by him. He contributed his first $1million to Drazan’s campaign in October.

Knight’s money has boosted the presence of a third candidate, which has thrown off all expectations. John Horvick (senior vice president, Pacific Northwest research firm DHM Research) stated that Democrats have a 5-point advantage over Republicans in a normal cycle.

Political strategists point out that Johnson, a former Democrat and her candidacy is drawing away support that could otherwise go to Kotek. Horvick stated that there is a real effort to prevent Democrats from leaving Johnson. Knight’s money could be to blame if Kotek loses.

Some progressive advocates believe Johnson is a poison, set up by larger fish to draw support away from Kotek. Timber Unity recently spoke out about this exact strategy on Faceb