OR-Gov: State House Speaker Tina Kotek, who'd been eyeing a bid for months, kicked off a campaign for governor on Wednesday, making her by far the most prominent Democrat in the race to succeed term-limited Gov. Kate Brown next year.
Kotek first joined the legislature after winning a safely blue seat in Portland in 2006, then became the nation's first lesbian legislative leader when she was elevated to the speakership just six years later. During her eight years leading the House, Kotek has overseen passage of an array of progressive measures, including a generous family and medical leave program, a minimum wage hike, and an equal pay law.
But in recent years, these efforts have been thwarted by repeated Republican walkouts that have killed legislation to combat climate change and increase education funding, among other things. Earlier this year, Kotek caved to another threatened boycott by giving GOP lawmakers veto power over the redistricting process despite their minority status, earning her the fury of prominent democrats like Reps. Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrader.
Kotek has also often been described—and described herself—as a strong advocate for organized labor, which could prove a boon in next year's primary. But two years ago, she shepherded a bill that made cuts to pensions for public employees, a move that infuriated unions. The Willamette Week's Rachel Monahan says that Kotek has nevertheless "stayed a close ally of union leadership," though just how true that remains once other Democrats join the race will be a key test.
And join they will. Though Kotek's entry will likely deter some candidates (labor leader Melissa Unger said last week she's "really unlikely" to run), other major players are still weighing bids. These ranks include state Treasurer Tobias Read, whom Oregon Public Broadcasting's Dirk VanderHart says "is widely expected to announce a campaign in coming days," and state Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, who is reportedly considering.
For what it's worth, there's also New York Times columnist Nick Kristof, who tells VanderHart that he's "getting close to a decision," though since he voted in New York last year, he may not be eligible to run (though of course he insists otherwise). The lone notable Democrat already in the race is Yamhill County Commissioner Casey Kulla.
The best-known Republican, meanwhile, is physician Bud Pierce, who lost a 2016 special election to Brown 51-43. He faces a primary that includes businesswoman Jessica Gomez and Baker City Mayor Kerry McQuisten.
P.S. If Kotek were to succeed Brown, who is bisexual, it would be the first time a governorship has ever passed from one LGBTQ office-holder to another.