In 2014, voters in deeply Democratic Maryland shocked the nation by electing Larry Hogan, only the second Republican to hold that state’s highest office in the past half-century.
Hogan, who visited Oregon this week to campaign for Republican Christine Drazan, believes Drazan can do the same in that state. The former minority leader of the Oregon House faces former House Speaker Tina Kotek, a Democrat and the presumed frontrunner, and Betsy Johnson, a longtime conservative Democratic legislator running as a nonaffiliated candidate, in her quest to become the first Republican governor since the 1980s.
“You can change a state when people get to the point where they’re fed up, and I think that’s where your state is now,” Hogan said.
Drazan and Hogan joined a group of Oregon business owners, crime victims and people who work with homeless Oregonians to discuss law enforcement and homelessness on Tuesday afternoon. The two issues are top concerns for voters, surveys show. Drazan, the Republican with the best shot at Oregon’s governor’s mansion in decades, is leaning hard on Oregonians’ frustration with homeless camps and rising violent crime rates in her pitch to Oregon voters.
“Here’s the thing I’m hearing from all you guys,” Drazan said. “You love the city, you love the state, you want to be safe, you want to do right by people because you see that they’re suffering.”
Drazan has offered few concrete policies for how she would address homelessness or crime. Her “Roadmap for Oregon’s Future” lists goals like restoring safe communities with few details.
One thing she said she intends to do – with legislative help – is refer 2020’s Measure 110 to the ballot again. The measure, which passed with more than 58% of the vote, decriminalized the possession of small amounts of hard drugs such as heroin or methamphetamines. Instead of criminal charges, people with small amounts of these drugs can face fines of up to $100.
Along with decriminalizing drugs, the measure promised more funding for addiction treatment, using revenue from marijuana sales taxes and savings from not enforcing drug laws. That funding and those treatment programs have been slow to appear.
“Let’s absolutely address this with Oregon voters and say, ‘We will not fail you again when it comes to access to services and support,’” Drazan said. “We will address this crisis. You don’t have to take the legalization of hard drugs to get this done.”
Drazan also said she would end Gov. Kate Brown’s practice of frequent commutations. Brown used her clemency powers to release around 1,000 people from prison before the end of their sentences in 2020 and 2021.
As Drazan highlighted her thoughts on criminal justice and homelessness, Kotek will champion gun control at her own event in Portland on Tuesday. A grocery store shooting in Bend two weekends ago drew more attention to gun policy, and Kotek has long promoted her record of voting for stricter gun laws.
Johnson, meanwhile, touted her own support from district attorneys, law enforcement leaders and victims’ rights groups this weekend, and has criticized both Drazan and Kotek for supporting legislation in the wake of the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests that limited police from using tear gas during protests and the circumstances in which they can charge protesters for interfering with a police officer.
Hogan visited Oregon as a representative of the Republican Governors Association, which has spent nearly $1.6 million on Drazan’s campaign. He said he can see a path forward for Drazan based on his own experience in Maryland.
In Maryland, where Hogan won re-election in 2018, Democratic President Joe Biden received 65% of the vote in 2020. Oregon was closer, with 57% of the vote for Biden.
“My state is more than two times more Democratic, and I’ve been elected overwhelmingly twice with just as much support from Democrats and independents as Republicans,” Hogan said. “Much of our plan was exactly what she’s talking about doing for this state, so I believe in her.”
A version of this article originally appeared in the Oregon Capital Chronicle, part of States Newsroom.