Why I’m with Tina



As editor of this labor newspaper, I’ll never tell you how to vote. When working people fall to quarreling about political parties, that’s the opposite of the unity needed to win. That’s why at the Labor Press we try not to bombard readers with politics, and we limit our electoral coverage to the period just before the election. 

But I’ve now been reporting on lawmakers and governors for over two decades as a labor journalist. And I’d be derelict in my duty if I didn’t tell you what I’ve seen. Because it matters a great deal who’s governor. If you’re in Oregon, Democrat Tina Kotek, independent Betsy Johnson, and Republican Christine Drazan are all asking for your vote, and all have a record we can look back on.

By 2013, when Tina Kotek became Speaker of the Oregon House, I had learned to have low expectations of Democratic leaders. I thought very little of Democrats’ willingness or ability to deliver real gains for working people. So if you’d come to me in 2013 with a prophecy—that Oregon Democrats were about to put minimum wage on a path to $15 an hour, increase school funding by a billion dollars a year, pass paid sick leave, set in motion a system of paid family leave, pass statewide limits on rent increases, and end abusive last-minute scheduling practices by chain stores, I would have said you were smoking Oregon’s biggest cash crop. And yet that’s exactly what Kotek helped to push through, as leader of her half of the legislature. Session by session, bill by bill, she got all those things passed, even when she had to anger big business to get it done. 

And the thing is, Betsy Johnson voted against the minimum wage, the only Democrat in the legislature to do so. And Christine Drazan would have voted against it if she’d been there at the time, because that’s what every Republican state lawmaker did at the time. And to me, there’s no better test of which side you’re on. 

And that’s not all. There’s also the fact that when I’ve interviewed Tina Kotek over the years, she’s always had a head full of detail. I came to believe that’s because the details really matter to her. I’ve also seen her again and again over the years on union picket lines and at union meetings—not pushing to get in front of a camera, but just there to show support, talk to union members, and listen.

Lastly, I’ve never believed in guilt by association, but it sure is informative to see who someone’s friends are. For a while, Betsy Johnson’s bestie was Phil Knight, Oregon’s cranky elder billionaire. As head of Nike, Knight long ago blazed the trail of outsourcing to the world’s worst foreign sweatshops. Lately Knight has developed a taste for politics, and he really has it in for Tina. First he gave Johnson’s campaign for governor $3.75 million. Now, concluding Johnson can’t win, he’s chipped in $1 million to Drazan’s campaign.  

Kotek’s detractors will say she was too often ruthless, too willing to put other lawmakers in a headlock if they defied her agenda. But the way I see it, most often her agenda was labor’s agenda, and she went after it with a drive that’s all too rare on the D side of the chamber.

I’ve become convinced most of Oregon’s biggest political failures in recent years have been failures of the executive branch—not the laws, but their lackluster implementation and enforcement. If Oregon voters give Tina Kotek the chance to be Oregon’s chief executive, I have a hunch she’ll tackle the job with the same gusto she showed when she passed that litany of labor laws.

At the end of the day, I trust our readers to make their own choices, for their own reasons. And I respect those who disagree with me. But for me, this is no time to be shy about how I’ll be voting. This election, I’m with Tina.

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