Oregon’s gubernatorial race is one of the more interesting matchups of the midterms, and Democrats are getting awfully nervous about the possibility of losing the election as voting draws near. Mail-in ballots will be available next week, and current polling has Democrat Tina Kotek narrowly trailing Republican Christine Drazan, with independent and former Democrat Betsy Johnson running a remarkably strong campaign of her own. One of the fascinating aspects of this race is that both Drazan and Johnson are pro-Second Amendment; in fact Kotek has been pointing out that her opponents have both received “A” ratings from the NRA in the past (though this year the NRA appears not to have graded Betsy Johnson at all). Kotek is clearly hoping that support for the right to keep and bear arms will turn off Oregon voters, but so far there’s not much evidence that’s the case.
Polls show Johnson with double-digit support, and Democrats have called her a spoiler who is taking votes from their nominee, Tina Kotek — and could lead to a GOP victory. Her bid has been aided by GOP donor and Nike co-founder Phil Knight, who donated at least $3.75 million to Johnson’s campaign before giving $1 million in recent weeks to Republican candidate Christine Drazan.
The tight contest between Kotek and Drazan, with Johnson trailing, has caught the attention of the White House. On Friday, President Joe Biden will visit Portland to campaign with Democrats and urge voters to back Kotek.
It’s an unexpected bright spot for the GOP, with the Republican Governors Association last week sinking another $1.5 million into the state in hopes of replacing Democratic Gov. Kate Brown, who is term-limited. Oregon is considered a toss-up race, alongside contests in the traditional swing state of Wisconsin and in Kansas, where Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly is seeking reelection in a conservative state where she beat a flawed candidate four years ago and now faces Republican Attorney General Derek Schmidt.
Kotek emphasized that a lot is riding on this election.
“The race for Oregon’s governor this year is more consequential than ever,” Kotek, a former state House speaker, said this week. “Roe v. Wade was overturned. Abortion rights are on the ballot. Gun violence prevention is on the ballot.”
Well, gun control is definitely on the ballot. Oregon voters will also be asked to weigh on a sweeping gun control referendum that would impose a permit to purchase a pistol, onerous training requirements that must be overseen by local law enforcement before someone can lawfully purchase a firearm, a ban on ammunition magazines that can hold more than 10-rounds, and tens of millions of dollars in unfunded mandates for police and sheriffs that have led to some county sheriffs speaking out against the referendum and urging Oregonians to vote “no.”
Measure 114 would require a permit to obtain any firearm, and it would outlaw magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds. If the measure passes, it would ban some commonly used pump shotguns because their capacity can exceed that limit. Further, Oregon State Police would be required to maintain a searchable public database of all permit applications.
[Umatilla County Sheriff Terry] Rowan also said he was convinced the measure is a direct violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment.
“It could take a couple of years before the Supreme Court hears a challenge,” Rowan noted. “While waiting, Oregonians would be deprived of their right to self-defense. In the meantime, those with ill intentions are still going to get a gun, ignoring the provisions for background checks and safety training.”
The $65 fee associated with the measure won’t cover even half of the cost of implementing it, Rowan said. The Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association estimated the first year cost at $40 million. The OSSA opposes the measure, and the Oregon Association Chiefs of Police might join them, he commented.
“If a citizen of Pendleton needs a gun for self-defense, who is going to provide the services required by the measure?” Rowan asked. “City police forces lack the time, money and staff. The unfunded, mandated safe handling and storage instruction is an attempt to stall people in purchasing a firearm.”
Both Drazan and Johnson have said they won’t be voting for the measure, though Johnson has said she supports raising the age to purchase modern sporting rifles from 18 to 21. Kotek, meanwhile, has predictably backed the anti-gun initiative, though even she has shied away from embracing a proposed ban on so-called assault weapons that the referendum’s organizers say they want lawmakers to approve next year. Kotek says that’s a matter best left to the federal government, telling a reporter last month “we did have bans, and the challenge is if one state bans it, the ability to go across the border is too simple.”
That same logic would apply to the magazines that would be banned under Oregon law, though that’s not stopping Kotek from supporting Measure 114. I suspect if she’s elected her supposed opposition to a state-level gun ban would suddenly disappear as well, but first she has to win the gubernatorial race… an outcome that at the moment is far from assured.