Oregon’s top 5 gubernatorial candidates weigh in on issues impacting Oregon’s economic future.
Voting is underway for Oregon’s primary election for governor, with ballots due May 17.
There are 15 Oregon Democrats and 19 Republicans vying for governor, but only five polled at or around 10% support in the last two weeks.
For Democrats, former Oregon House speaker Tina Kotek and former state treasurer Tobias Read appear locked in a two-way contest, according to an April poll by California-based FM3 Research, with both candidates polling at 20% or higher.
The Republican field seems more divided. According to a survey conducted by Salem-based Nelson Research, 19% of likely Republican voters chose former House minority leader Christine Drazan. Bob Tiernan, former Oregon Republican Party chair, was second with 14%, and 2016 nominee Bud Pierce captured 9.5%, with the rest being unsure or saying they would vote for someone else.
Oregon’s next governor will have to address the state’s growing affordable housing shortage, its emerging, state-subsidized green energy sector, the effects of climate change, and Oregon’s ongoing homelessness crisis — all of which could have a significant impact on Oregon’s economic future.
What follows is a summary of the major-party candidates say they would tackle those issues.
Betsy Johnson, who served as a State Legislator for 20 years but is seeking the governor’s office as an unaffiliated candidate. Her campaign page does not include detailed positions on the following issues, but does include promises to “get control of Portland’s homeless and public safety crisis,” “stop taking jobs and job creators for granted” and “make Oregon more affordable for working families.” Johnson has also been a vocal opponent of cap and trade.
According to the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis, Oregon has an estimated shortage of 111,000 homes, with the greatest shortage being homes affordable to lower-income families. The construction labor market is also tight, constraining construction.
High home prices do not only harm lower-income people. According to a 2020 review by OPB, high housing costs can worsen traffic, contribute to worker shortages and reduce consumer spending.
On her website, Drazan blames Oregon’s “regulatory tax environment” for Oregonian’s low buying power, which has in her view reduced their ability to afford housing. Drazan pledges on her “issues” page to veto any new taxes, repeal “costly” regulations, and promote tax policies which would “allow Oregonians to keep more of their money in their own pockets.”
During a Q&A with Oregon Capital Chronicle, Drazan said the state government had “repeatedly interfered” with the private sector through building regulations, impeding their ability to meet the demand for housing.
Drazan says the state “must expedite the process to make buildable land available, speed up the development of new units, and lower the cost associated with building new housing in Oregon.” She also supports protecting some existing programs, like the mortgage interest deduction and first-time home buyer program, while holding down property taxes. She also claims inclusionary zoning and “regulatory complexities” drive up the cost of building units.
Kotek posted a thorough housing and homelessness plan on her website. In her plan, Kotek says she will partner with Business Oregon to create a housing and transportation strategy program and build upon Governor Kate Brown’s construction jobs workforce program. Kotek pledged to issue an executive order to create a multi-sector advisory group, and a 10-year plan to build enough homes in urban, suburban, and rural communities and to make this plan the top priority in the 2024 legislative session.
To encourage growth, Kotek says she will encourage “intergovernmental and private sector partnerships” and pass legislation focusing on “Encouraging innovation, streamlining permit processes, and supporting housing developers to scale up to build these homes.”
Kotek has also made it a priority to end existing equity gaps in housing between white Oregonians and Oregonians of color by providing BIPOC Oregonians with loan and loan payment assistance and homeownership education programs though culturally-specific organizations. She also supports community land trusts and shared equity homeownership programs to close the equity gap.
Like Drazan, Pierce trusts the private sector to fix the housing crisis. He says he would lower the cost of land by modifying land-use planning restrictions to allow more units to be built.
Pierce tells Oregon Capital Chronicle that by pursuing an agenda that “dramatically [reduces] fees, red tape, and time the builders invest in building homes” and “loosening stringent building requirements that significantly increase the cost of building a house” the state can overcome its housing crisis.
“Affordable housing can be built if we allow smaller structures, lower land prices through modifying our land use planning and limit excessive regulations which drive up prices,” he told KATU in a Q&A.
Read told the Oregon Capital Chronicle there can be no solution to the housing crisis without the private sector “working closely with state and local governments.”
As governor, Read says he will direct state agencies to grant private construction companies access to buildable land, invest in building infrastructure, and allow builders more flexibility in Oregon’s land use planning system in exchange for developments that meet housing needs and climate goals.
In order to build large, scalable housing units, Read says he will streamline the permitting process in order to deploy funds already approved by the state and Metro-area governments.
On his website, Read says he will create a statewide program to give Oregonians access to low-interest loans to build additional housing on single-family lots.
To solve the housing crisis, Tiernan said would call a housing summit, like then-Gov. Neil Goldschmidt did for worker’s compensation in 1989 to reduce prices in a Q&A with the Oregon Capital Chronicle.
Tiernan suggested a lock-in at the Oregon Fairgrounds for all involved parties to hammer out a solution.
Tiernan blames “overregulation for climate change policies, energy efficiency rules, permit problems, and System Development Charges (SDCs)” for driving up costs for home builders.
Tiernan says the “laws of supply and demand” often work better to solve housing issues. Still, Tiernan says he would use public-private partnerships to create more affordable housing units, and supports a 50-acre extension of the urban growth boundary.
Green Economy/Climate Change
Over $9 billion of investment in renewable energy has come to Oregon over the last 16 years, generating over $110 million in public revenue, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Wind energy production in the state has increased significantly in the last decade. There are nearly 2000 wind turbines in Oregon which generated 10.6% of the state's electricity in 2019, up from 6.1% from 10 years ago.
But the impacts of climate change are already affecting Oregon farmers. According to a 2021 study from Stanford University, county-level temperature trends have contributed $27 billion—or 19%—of the national-level crop insurance losses over the 1991–2017 period.
Drazan blasted Oregon’s low-carbon fuel standards and the creation of a cap-and-trade program in a Q&A with KATU and on her campaign website. Drazan’s website does not otherwise mention renewable energy or the environment.
On her website, Kotek says that as speaker of the Oregon House, she “put Oregon on a path to 100% clean electricity by 2040, including a $50 million investment to jumpstart wind, solar and other community renewable energy projects that will create jobs in Oregon.”
Kotek praised Oregon’s Clean Fuels Program, and called for “bold action to match the scale of the (climate) crisis.” Kotek pledges to increase the use of zero-emission vehicles and invest more in public transportation to lower emissions through legislation.
Kotek says she will use her position as governor to transition the state away from fossil fuels in homes and commercial buildings and increase climate resiliency for small farming communities and ranches, as well as pass stricter laws to protect workers during climate events like heat waves and wildfires.
Pierce is sharply against environmental regulations and government support of renewable energy.
On voting guide website ISideWith…, Pierce reported being against new environmental regulations to address climate change, and opposed to government subsidies for wind energy.
Read’s website says Oregon is well-positioned to be a leader in addressing climate change. Read would support Oregon’s green economy through clean energy investments, decarbonizing the transportation sector, reducing building energy use through legislation and creating climate resiliency programs for farms and ranches across the state.
Read says as governor, he would increase financial incentives to reduce the cost of renewable energy and energy storage, establish an offshore wind energy fund to gather wind energy on the Oregon coast, and increase financing, loans and grant opportunities for clean energy technologies.
Tiernan says that although he believes human activity is causing the planet to warm, he told OPB the government must “be careful of the unintended consequences of Government actions on Oregonians' livelihoods, pocket books, the ability to heat their homes, travel and enjoy their lives.”
Tiernan does not support cap-and-trade legislation but says he wants to encourage the use of electric vehicles and other conservation measures, though he did not state whether or not he would pass laws to do so.
According to data released by Multnomah County, the amount of people living without homes in Portland increased approximately 50% since January 2019. As of January 2020, Oregon had an estimated 14,655 experiencing homelessness as reported by Continuums of Care to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Government programs have been shown to be making some progress. Nonprofits have reported getting 500 homeless people into housing since a new tax to raise money for homeless services took effect in mid-2021.
Drazan said she would address the “root causes” of homelessness – addiction, mental health, and affordability – by working with nonprofits, the faith community, and local governments, as well as “make clear” local governments have the “authority and obligation” to enforce local ordinances.
Kotek pledges that within 30 days in office, she would form an emergency management team to address the urgent needs of veterans, families with children, unaccompanied young adults and people over age 65, and training housing navigators to find them places to live.
As Governor, Kotek pledges to address homelessness by providing wraparound services, such as mental health support workers, to people living on the streets, and work with cities and nonprofits to continue creating new living spaces. She cites Project Turnkey, which acquires hotels and motels for homeless shelters, as a successful example of a state-run shelter program,
Kotek says keeping people housed who are on the brink of homelessness is also essential. In addition to creating a housing provider council that consists of private landlords, affordable housing providers, and tenant rights advocates, Kotek says she would direct the Public Utility Commission to implement an arrearage strategy for unpaid utility bills, use the Secretary of State’s audit of the emergency rent assistance delivery system to make improvements, and give courts flexibility to both mediate eviction cases and connect tenants facing eviction to community-based services to help them stay housed
During the Republican debate, Pierce said he would declare a statewide “substance use disorder and homeless emergency” to start fixing the homelessness issue.
Pierce says he would make it illegal to camp on the streets, parks and on riverbanks. For people experiencing homeless who did not vacate, they would be placed in either a “locked shelter or some form of incarceration until they will participate in improving their lives or they find private accommodations.”
Pierce says his approach to Oregon’s homelessness would also include addiction and mental health treatment and make sure all people experiencing homelessness had access to shelters, but provided few details on how this would be done.
“Make no mistake, those who are homeless will not have the option to return to street living when shelters and services are available,” reads his website.
To stop homelessness from increasing, Read says he would pass legislation to prevent evictions for those who are at risk of homelessness. Read says that by repurposing vacant motels, hotels and office spaces, and staffing the sites with support services, including mental health and addiction treatment, state agencies will help people experiencing homeless locate long-term housing.
Read says building a mix of affordable housing, shelters, and transitional housing is essential to fighting Oregon’s homelessness crisis, and once adequate housing and shelter options are available, “for those who are willing to accept help” that it will be “time to start enforcing camping bans in our parks and on our streets.”
Tiernan told KATU as governor he would implement a “short-term solution that gets the homeless off the streets, parks, immediately” and establish “military-style” shelters on public or leased lands that “mirror shelters that are established in time(s) of emergency, floods, hurricanes, tornados, or other disasters.”
Tiernan told OPB he would give homeless campers notice that they needed to vacate public property, and if they did not do so within the time limit, he would “move them off the street, and out of our parks (and) neighborhoods.”
In the long-term, Tiernan said he would establish an “action force” to create a more permanent solution. He also advocated the repeal of Measure 110 that decriminalized possession of most illegal drugs, which he says has not achieved its desired ends and has only contributed to Oregon’s addiction crisis.
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