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Johnson gains support from some Malheur leaders in bid for governor

Three leaders in Malheur County are lining up behind Betsy Johnson for governor, breaking a pattern of backing Republican candidates.

Johnson, as a Democrat, served for many years in the Oregon House and then the Senate. She has launched a bid for governor, running as nonaffiliated. She qualified for the November general election ballot by gathering the legally required signatures.

She faces Tina Kotek, the Democratic nominee who is former speaker of the Oregon House, and Christine Drazan, the Republican nominee who was the caucus leader for the Republicans in the House.

In Malheur County, nonaffiliated voters are the largest pool of registered voters – 8,087 out of 17,604, according to August numbers. The state shows there are 6,302 Republican voters and 2,312 Democratic voters.

Johnson has been endorsed by Brian Wolfe, Malheur County sheriff; Dave Goldthorpe, Malheur County district attorney, and Tom Butler, an Ontario CPA who served as state representative from 1999 until 2007.

Butler said he became acquainted with Johnson when she joined the House in 2001. Butler recalled that he chaired a budget subcommittee that handled the budget for the Oregon Department of Transportation. She served on the committee, bringing prior experience working for the agency’s aviation division.

When the hearing started, Butler said, he handed the gavel to Johnson and excused himself. He watched a broadcast of her questioning Transportation Department officials.

“Betsy did a wonderful job,” Butler said. “She knew where the skeletons were buried. She did an excellent job of following the money.”

He said he has worked with Johnson for years since and encouraged her before to run for governor.

“Betsy is extremely articulate when it comes to business matters,” Butler said. “She understands finance and big finance. She understands the big picture in Oregon.”

Butler said he has voted Republican since he registered to vote when he was 18 and has always backed the Republican nominee for governor – until now.

“Much as I would love to have a Republican governor, I’ve got to have someone who knows the issues and someone who is conservative when it comes to finances,” Butler said. 

Goldthorpe said he became acquainted with Johnson while he worked in the Clatsop County District Attorney’s Office and Johnson represented the Astoria region in the Legislature.

“I’m a big Betsy fan,” he said. He said he is particularly drawn to her strong stands on criminal justice and public safety issues.

“I know how she feels about the state the state of Oregon is in – it’s taken a wrong turn,” said Goldthorpe.

He said he didn’t endorse in the last governor’s race.

Wolfe said he has always endorsed the Republican candidate for governor, and finds Drazan an acceptable option. But he’s going with Johnson.

“I’ve known Betsy Johnson for years and I have worked with her on a few things over the years,” the sheriff said.

He’s concerned that Kotek might succeed to the governor’s office.

“I don’t see it going good for our state,” he said.

Wolfe is scheduled to speak at a Malheur County Republican Central Committee fundraiser on Sept. 30 in Ontario. Drazan also is listed as a speaker.

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