Democrat Tina Kotek specified her top three priorities as Oregon’s next governor even as Republican rival Christine Drazan declined to concede the race Thursday.
Kotek spoke Thursday to news reporters and campaign supporters at a gathering at Salmon Street Springs in Tom McCall Waterfront Park in Portland. It was her first public appearance since Tuesday night, when the election was still too close to call. She added a little bit to her statement from the previous night, when she claimed victory in a close race with three major candidates — all women, a national first.
“When I start as your next governor, I will focus on three things first,” she said.
“I will declare a homelessness state of emergency and work with urgency to help Oregonians move off the streets. I will expand access to mental health and addiction treatment services. I will work to bridge the divisions in our state. I will spend time in our communities all over Oregon, working to fix problems and partner with Oregonians who want to find solutions.”
She also listed “successful schools” as a priority, but did not specify action.
As of 2:45 p.m. Thursday, with 1.6 million ballots counted, Kotek’s lead over Drazan widened slightly, 47% to 43.6%; nonaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson had 8.7%. The Oregonian/Oregon Live has called the race for Kotek.
Kotek did name as leader of her transition team Tim Inman, a former chief of staff when she was speaker of the Oregon House. Inman left in 2018 for the University of Oregon, where he is secretary to the university board of trustees and assistant to the president. His will be a part-time position for a few months.
She said she will prepare changes in the proposed 2023-25 state budget, which is being put together under outgoing Democratic Gov. Kate Brown, to support her legislative proposals. An incoming governor has until Feb. 1 to do so; the Legislature has the final say.
“We are still figuring that out,” she said. “One of the conversations in the transition is how to make sure we have those ideas front and center and prepared to come into the session with budgetary asks.”
The Oregon Mayors Association and the Portland City Council have offered plans to deal with homelessness that call for more state spending. Kotek, in pre-election comments, has welcomed their participation but has not endorsed specifics in their plans.
Kotek also said the transition team will have another mission.
“For me, it’s focusing first on making sure we have the right leaders in place in our agencies and within my office to hit the ground running in January — and doing a lot of listening to hear what people would like us to change,” she said.
Kotek acknowledged Oregon’s deep political divisions. She was carrying just seven of the 36 counties, though three of the four most populous ones. They are Multnomah, Washington and Hood River counties, two coastal counties, and the two counties that are home to the University of Oregon and Oregon State University.
Drazan — a former House Republican leader from Canby — was carrying the others, though she and Kotek were separated by only a few points in Clackamas and Deschutes counties.
Nonaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson of Scappoose, who conceded Tuesday night, had her best showings in the two counties in her former Senate district. But she failed to carry even them.
Drazan, in a statement released by her campaign Thursday afternoon, declined to concede.
“With several hundred thousand ballots yet to be counted, we continue to exercise patience as we await additional clarity regarding the final outcome of this race. Oregonians should have confidence that their votes will be counted as our county clerks continue their diligent work.”
Kotek said she had spoken with both candidates.
"I let them know I am going to focus on the problems that all three of us agree need fixing,’ she said.
She said the best way to heal Oregon’s urban-rural divide is to start working on the state’s problems together:
“If people see we are working on the things we care about together — housing and homelessness, mental health and addiction treatment, good schools, and engaging in good dialogue — we are all going to figure out how to work together to solve problems.”