By Cassidy Harris
After holding their breath for the past few months, Oregon Democrats let out a sigh of relief on Election Day. Kate Brown, the Democratic incumbent, won the governorship over Republican challenger Knute Buehler by a margin of about 5 percent. Polls from the time of the primary elections suggested the gubernatorial race between Brown and Buehler would be neck and neck, and while it was not as close as we thought, it was still far too close.
Neither candidate was particularly popular. Brown’s approval ratings linger around the 50/50 mark, partly due to her role in former Gov. John Kitzhaber’s 2015 scandal. Brown was the Secretary of State during Kitzhaber’s governorship, during which Kitzhaber committed multiple political and ethical violations and resigned amid criminal investigations. Brown, as Secretary of State, was next in the line of succession and took over as Governor in 2015. Buehler, alternatively, is an orthopedic surgeon and relatively unknown State Representative from the small, central town of Bend. Despite his moderate leanings, Buehler is still a member of the Republican Party — now considered incredibly toxic by Democrats and Independents.
Oregon has not elected a Republican governor since 1982, and both major parties were very engaged in this election. Approximately 40 percent of Oregonians turned out and mailed in their ballots in this year’s midterms, a jump from 32 percent during the last statewide election. Oregon’s rejection of Buehler and the increase in voter turnout mirrors other states around the nation and sends a clear signal to Washington, D.C.: this election was definitely about President Trump.
In a recent fundraising email before the midterm election, Brown’s campaign labeled Buehler a “Trump in training.” Many feared Buehler was only a moderate during the campaign and, once he got in office, would don a red “Make America Great Again” hat and become a state puppet for Trump’s national politics like many other governors. Buehler openly fought against that image, critiquing Trump’s personality and advocating for progressive policies that Trump stands against, including access to abortion and birth control, equal rights for all genders and sexualities and acknowledging the negative effects of climate change. On the other hand, Buehler openly renounces clean energy jobs, advocates for additional fracking and liquid natural gas pipelines and has positive ratings from the National Rifle Association (NRA). Voters were extremely apprehensive about Buehler because in today’s extremely polarized political atmosphere, a vote for a Republican — even a moderate — is a vote for Trump.
Trump’s utter domination of the Republican Party has changed what it means to vote Republican. A vote for a Republican is a vote for bigotry, hatred and disorder. A vote for a Republican is a neon sign to Trump saying, “I think what is happening to our country is acceptable,” and that is unacceptable. Oregonians will not stand for Trump and his new, grossly warped Republican Party (at least the seven most populated counties will not — this does not necessarily apply to the other 29 rural counties that voted red).
In addition to rejecting Knute Buehler, Oregonians voted progressively on other incredibly important issues on their ballots. Measure 105 was rejected, which would have repealed Oregon’s status as a sanctuary state for illegal immigrants. Measure 106 would have barred the use of public funds for abortions if it were implemented. The Portland City Council now has a female majority, and Democrats maintained their hold on the State House and Senate.
The Oregon elections mirrored those around the country in proving our discontent with the current White House administration. Yes, the state is divided — and the country follows suit. But as long as we stay educated, stay engaged and keep voting, Oregon will stay its quirky, accepting and progressive self (with the nation’s first openly bisexual female governor).