Oregon Republican voters must choose from among 19 candidates for governor
There is broad agreement among the top Republican candidates for governor on which issue facing the state is most concerning to Oregonians: homelessness.
As for who is to blame for the crisis, they also agree on the culprit: Democrats who have been in control of state government for years.
While getting the homeless off the streets is a universal goal, the candidates offer a variety of ideas about how to achieve that and keep homelessness from becoming a crisis again.
Salem's Dr. Bud Pierce said one model for his plan is a program in the Medford area where people are given a basic level of shelter and support, and then can progress through several levels of treatment and finish with accommodations in a duplex.
Conservative advocate and writer Bridget Barton said the housing-first model is an “abject failure.” Unused government buildings should be converted into low-barrier shelters and money being directed toward procuring or building private living spaces for homeless people should be diverted to substance abuse programs, she said.
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Sandy Mayor Stan Pulliam said the unsheltered homeless in the Portland metro area should be moved to a new pseudo-campsite at the Port of Portland and the National Guard should be brought in to help clean blight.
Tech CEO Jessica Gomez said cities need to build relationships with people living on the streets so they can be convinced to move to areas where camping is allowed and services are on site. Long-term, Gomez would treat homeless living accommodations like the senior care system — several levels of supportive housing depending on need.
Former Oregon Rep. Christine Drazan said local and state governments need to view homelessness like a rare and temporary occurrence, building a database of homeless people to better understand an individual’s needs and how to move them to a safer housing situation.
Former Oregon Rep. Bob Tiernan said military-style tented barracks should be erected on state land or privately-held leased land as a way to get people off the streets and provide better access to support services. Long-term, he would assemble a task force to establish a plan.
Each candidate did agree on the need for bolstering the numbers of police officers in the state, not just for homelessness, but for a general increase in crime they attribute to homelessness, substance abuse or a “general lawlessness.”
Combining the problem of homelessness with the recent increase in daily expenses due to inflation, lingering concerns from the coronavirus pandemic, the historical advantage the out-of-power party has during a national midterm election, and the unknown impact of nonaffiliated candidate and former senator Betsy Johnson, Republicans believe they have a legitimate shot at winning the governorship this fall.
“This is the best chance in probably two generations for a Republican to get elected in the state of Oregon,” Pulliam said.
It’s been 35 years since a Republican last held the office of Oregon governor. But first, Republican voters will have to select one out of the 19 candidates on the ballot running for governor in the primary.
Beyond the homeless crisis
Out of those 19 candidates, six have set themselves apart with their fundraising success, each raising more than $500,000 this election cycle, according to state campaign finance records. Not coincidentally, those are also the candidates state political analysts and even the other candidates themselves consider to be serious contenders in the primary.
In such a crowded race, having money is critical to getting a candidate’s message out, be that through advertisements on television, the radio or online, mailers, billboards, yard signs or door-to-door canvasing.
Six of the candidates don’t have any record of spending money on their campaign, and the remaining seven lie somewhere in between.
Barton’s message to voters is that she is an outsider who isn’t a career politician, doesn’t have any strings attached and has nothing to lose.
Barton said she is 40 years in recovery from alcoholism, so she understands the challenges of solving the state’s substance abuse issue.
“What we’re doing is not compassionate. We’re enabling people to commit slow suicide on our streets,” she said.
Barton is also a 30-year advocate for education reform, preferring school choice and parent empowerment over the current system of public education.
Her campaign has raised about $963,000 this election cycle.
Having only recently stepped away from the Oregon Legislature, Drazan said she is the only candidate who has experience facing off against Gov. Kate Brown and 2022 Democratic candidate for governor Tina Kotek.
“I have been in the fight and I have worked on behalf of Oregonians in some tough battles,” Drazan said. “I’m just ready to lead.”
She said Oregonians want their quality of life back, which has eroded due to rising costs, poor public education and declining public safety.
“The problems that Oregon is facing right now is 100% at the feet of Democrats who have been in control of our state, top to bottom, for a decade,” Drazan said.
Her campaign has raised about $2.2 million this election cycle.
Gomez describes herself as a moderate, future-focused Republican committed to streamlining state agencies and changing the government’s culture to be one of service to the people of the state.
She has plans for introducing apprenticeship programs into high schools and pausing taxes to allow people to recover from current high expenses.
Gomez doesn’t see her lack of elected experience as a hinderance, rather that she can bring a needed perspective to Oregon government.
“Oregon likes to elect people who have elected official experience … but right now it’s really a hinderance. We’ve had that,” she said. “We’ve been under one-party rule for a really long time and it’s time to have balance.”
Her campaign has raised about $640,000 this election cycle, nearly half of that in the form of a $300,000 loan Gomez made to her campaign.
Dr. Bud Pierce
This is Pierce’s second campaign for governor. He ran against Brown in 2016 losing in the general election by seven percentage points.
He said compared to six years ago, tensions and political activity are “ramped up” right now. All his events are better attended this time around, he said, and he believes voters are really taking a close look at each candidate.
They feel something is wrong, Pierce said, they just don’t know what needs to be done about it.
“The public really is trying to figure out who can lead us to a better future,” he said.
Pierce said his background as a doctor informs his politics and policies. He has seen people at some of the lowest points of their lives. He said he wants a government that provides support but is not interested in running all the systems.
Pierce is largely self-funding his campaign, contributing the majority of the $933,000 he has raised during this election cycle.
Mayor Stan Pulliam
Pulliam decided he would run for governor after seeing the impacts pandemic-related public health shutdowns had on small businesses in his town of Sandy.
He said he has been backing the police since “before it was cool” and that the state needs to address a growing “culture of criminality.”
Pulliam said he has experience as an executive leading a community, which other candidates in this race don’t have. His past actions — including suing Brown over pandemic-related restrictions — also demonstrate his leadership style, he said.
“Voters are going to be asking themselves: Over the course of the last two years, the most consequential years of our lives, were the candidates on the sidelines or were they in the fight?” Pulliam said.
His campaign has raised about $541,000 this election cycle.
Tiernan said he decided to jump back into the fray of Oregon politics after more than a decade out of the spotlight because the leadership of the state had fallen so far.
“The biggest issue is leadership and why have we let our problems get so bad and not address them as they came before us,” he said.
Tiernan said the issues facing the state now — which he described as “general lawlessness” — are similar to the problems in the early 90s, which pushed him to run for office. As a member of the Oregon House, he chaired a legislative committee on crime and was one of the chief sponsors of Measure 11, which set minimum mandatory sentences for certain offenses.
He said he is running to solve problems, and his background in business and the Legislature positions him to be successful in that effort.
“In business you get the problem solved,” he said.
His campaign has raised about $1.3 million during this election cycle, including a $500,000 loan Tiernan gave to his own campaign. A California-based LLC contributed $500,000 as well.
Beyond those who political analysts and fellow candidates consider the front runners are a group of seven candidates:
- Nick Hess — Tech CEO. Hess is presenting himself as a moderate Republican in the vein of Vic Atiyeh, Mark Hatfield and Tom McCall. He said the silent majority of Republicans in Oregon want the party to return to core values of lower taxes, support for small businesses, freedom and civility. Hess has raised about $187,000 for his campaign, including $50,000 in contributions he made himself along with several loans.
- Tim McCloud — Business development analyst and researcher. McCloud says he is a person who as governor would start conversations, listen to people with different points of view and deliver on the common issues that all could agree on. He has raised about $4,000 for his campaign.
- Kerry McQuisten — Baker City mayor. McQuisten said her experience pushing back against pandemic-related public health lockdowns showed her the limits of her power as a mayor. To serve in the way she wants to, she would need to seek higher office. McQuisten said as governor she would fight for medical freedoms, protect individual constitutional rights and support law enforcement. She has raised about $240,000 for her campaign.
- Brandon Merritt — Marketing consultant. Merritt says he has a track record for building programs for businesses in crisis and he wants to bring that solutions-focused perspective to the governorship. Oregon needs new leadership and new ideas, he said. Merritt has raised about $95,000, the majority of which came in the form of personal loans to his own campaign.
- Amber Richardson — Licensed massage therapist. Richardson's top issues include removing Oregon's vote-by-mail system, bringing back the logging industry, addressing the state's increasing crime rate and lowering taxes. She has raised about $4,000 for her campaign.
- Bill Sizemore — General contractor and anti-tax advocate. Sizemore said he doesn't believe any of the other candidates in the race can win in the general election because voters want a candidate who has a record fighting in "tough battles." Sizemore made a name for himself in Oregon politics in the 90s as one of the leading forces to reduce state taxes. He has raised $25,000 for his campaign and is largely self-funding the effort.
- Marc Thielman — Former superintendent. Thielman said he is running for governor to "turn socialism on its head" and end policies that are hurting families and businesses. His issues of concern include increased crime, poor environmental stewardship and too little parental involvement in schools. He has raised about $236,000 for his campaign.
There are six additional candidates who either have not created campaign accounts to receive contributions or have not raised any money in their campaign accounts, according to Oregon Secretary of State records. Those candidates are:
- Raymond Baldwin — Self-employed general contractor. Baldwin has lobbied bills in the Legislature and interned in the office of the last Republican to hold the governorship, Atiyeh.
- Court Boice — Curry County commissioner. Boice calls himself “the one true conservative Republican governor candidate” and touts his knowledge of wildfire prevention, suppression and recovery.
- David Burch — Unemployed. Burch, of Salem, did not provide any additional information about himself to the Secretary of State’s Office when filing to run for governor, nor does he have a campaign website.
- Reed Christensen — Retired electrical engineer and business owner. While he will be on the ballot, Christensen ended his campaign on April 13 after experiencing a stroke, according to his campaign.
- John Presco — “Self-employed newspaperman.” Presco, of Springfield, did not provide any additional information about himself to the Secretary of State’s Office when filing to run for governor, nor does he have a campaign website.
- Stefan Strek — Independent artist, paint and graphic design. Strek’s campaign website has not been updated since he ran for Congress in 2018. On it he says he will defend the Constitution and will be hard working and assertive as a representative.