Johnson pitches centrist message to farmers
REDMOND — If she’s elected Oregon’s governor next year, state Sen. Betsy Johnson expects to keep her veto pen busy.
Many of the state Democratic Party’s policies go against the interests of ordinary Oregonians and thus wouldn’t pass muster with her administration, she said at the Oregon Farm Bureau’s annual convention in Redmond.
“The ‘D’ behind my name doesn’t define me,” said Johnson , D-Scappoose, noting that she refuses to “march lockstep” with Democratic priorities that harm agriculture.
“Why do some legislators appear be so anti-farmer? I find this inexplicable,” she said.
Johnson’s observations were repeatedly interrupted by applause and laughter from the crowd of farmers, whom she plans to court vigorously in her independent campaign for governor. She intends to leave the Democratic Party and run as a nonaffiliated candidate.
“Oregonians can be surprisingly independent and that’s independent with a small ‘i’,” she said. “Our government needs a centrist to bring the opposing sides together.”
Johnson said she’s focused on fundraising but will begin flying around rural parts of the state next year, since she realizes “there’s an Oregon that’s east of Bend and south of Eugene.”
Reaching out to residents outside the state’s major population centers will be key to her campaign strategy, Johnson later told Capital Press.
“The support of rural Oregon will be absolutely essential to win this race,” she said.
Johnson reminded farmers of several instances in which she defied the Democratic supermajority in the Legislature, such as voting against controversial cap-and-trade bills that aimed to curtail carbon emissions.
“Being told climate change is the most important issue our nation faces rings hollow when you’re struggling to make it to the end of the month,” she said.
Another bill to mandate higher overtime wages for farm workers was based on “emotions, not reality,” since it would likely result in reduced hours and paychecks for those employees, she said.
Johnson highlighted her support for legislation that’s helped farmers, including a bill that reduced regulatory requirements for cleaning drainage ditches.
“There are legislators in Salem who have no idea how important clean ditches are,” she said.
State environmental policy had treated all such ditches as “pristine salmonid habitat,” Johnson said. “No, they’re not. They’re a ditch.”
Farmers must give lawmakers an earful about policies that are important to them, which may mean testifying online during the next legislative session, she said.
“Don’t give up, even if leadership locks down the building,” Johnson said. “Don’t let them screw you with the door closed.”
Closing the Capitol to the public is an example of the state’s “episodic and jerky” coronavirus restrictions, which didn’t “necessarily follow the science,” she said.
“Nobody in Salem will crown me Miss Congeniality, but that’s fine,” Johnson said. “There are enough smiling faces in Salem.”
Many farmers will likely be receptive to Johnson’s message, even though the agriculture industry traditionally leans Republican, according to several growers at the conference.