Back in April, before Oregon primary voters decided who would be up for the general gubernatorial election in November, we reported on a concerning comment from from one of the candidates. Former Oregon state senator Betsy Johnson (D-Scappoose) told radio host Lars Larson she didn’t want any transit, bike or pedestrian facilities on a new I-5 bridge between Portland and Vancouver — an extreme position that is a political non-starter.
Johnson is running for governor as an Independent, marketing herself as someone with a “get ‘er done” attitude who can bypass the Democratic and Republican party establishment. This is appealing to some Oregonians who think our state’s current leadership is taking us in the wrong direction. Though Oregon has had Democratic governors for more than three decades, Johnson is showing she might be able to shake things up – polls now show Johnson and Democratic candidate Tina Kotek are locked in a tight two-way race.
Since then, more has come to light about Johnson’s transportation perspective. A recent series of questionable decisions and revelations is worth noting…
The 2013 car crash and aftermath
In a Willamette Week article published last week, Rachel Monahan reported that Johnson rear-ended another driver at a red light in Scappoose in 2013, when she was serving in the Oregon senate.
Both Johnson and the person in the other car, a 42-year-old woman named Melissa Gallentine, suffered serious injuries due to the crash. But when Gallentine filed a lawsuit against her to recover money for her medical expenses, Johnson tried to shirk responsibility by claiming legislative immunity. (In a statement to Willamette Week, Johnson said she was ‘thinking about a bill’ she was on her way to Salem to introduce, and ‘didn’t notice that the intersection light had just changed.’)
In the article, Monahan writes Johnson and her lawyers were “attempting to create a sort of Catch-22 that would have allowed Johnson and her insurance company to escape all responsibility.” Johnson also attempted to put the financial onus for Gallantine’s injuries on Oregon taxpayers, claiming the state should be responsible for footing the bill since she was serving legislative duty at the time of the crash.
“Johnson may not have overstepped the law. But her effort to exempt herself may prove embarrassing for a candidate who has made accountability and transparency bywords of her gubernatorial campaign,” Monahan wrote.
Distracted driving in a campaign ad
Even after the 2013 crash, it seems like Johnson hasn’t learned her lesson about distracted driving.
Last month, Johnson’s team posted a new campaign ad showing her driving past homeless encampments in downtown Portland and talking about her strategy for the city’s homelessness crisis. In the video, she’s shown taking her eyes off the road to directly address a camera in the passenger seat as she’s operating the moving car. That’s a concern, especially in downtown Portland where there are a lot of people riding bikes and walking. It’s troubling that Johnson’s team would make this decision without considering the irresponsible driving behavior it promotes.
‘City of roaches’
As is evident from the aforementioned advertisement, Johnson’s campaign has arguably targeted homelessness in Portland as the primary statewide concern, and in doing so, she has made disparaging comments about the state of this city some residents haven’t taken kindly to.
In at least two recent interviews, Johnson referred to Portland as ‘the city of roaches’ (as opposed to Portland’s official nickname, ‘the City of Roses’). An article in the Oregonian summarized the situation, stating “Portland does not actually have a cockroach problem. Instead, Johnson’s roach comment appeared to be her summary of how unsanitary, unsightly and unsafe she feels Oregon’s largest city has become.”
Johnson has denied accusations that she was referring to homeless people – she says she was talking about trash, not using a dehumanizing term for people who live on the streets – but the quippy comment didn’t land well and struck some as needlessly divisive.
In addition to these three examples, which have specifically created ire among transportation and homeless advocates (groups of people who often overlap in this city), Johnson has also received backlash for her controversial opinions about gun control recently platformed on TedxPortland. It was another moment when she made it clear calling yourself an independent isn’t necessarily enough to push past the political fighting happening across the state and around the entire country.
But Johnson has some big name support – and the money to prove it – so whatever your political affiliations, her campaign is one to pay attention to.
Taylor has been BikePortland’s staff writer since November 2021. She has also written for Street Roots and Eugene Weekly. Contact her at email@example.com
Did Johnson ever reveal how she would solve Oregon’s homeless crisis?
I think that would require having literally any platform to begin with. Johnson voters are suckers.
She’s just a populist with no solutions.
She will yell at them a lot…
Probably something like a 2×2 mile encampment in Eastern Oregon, with long and low buildings, fences and maybe dogs and …. Oh … oh, dang!
I think the 2013 crash and the recent campaign ad demonstrate a clear pattern of dangerous, inattentive driving behavior. I don’t know if that should have any bearing on the election or raise questions about here ability to govern. But clearly Betsy had repeatedly engaged in reckless activities that should disqualify her from operating motor vehicles on public roads.
I’m voting for Johnson so that, if she wins, she’ll get a driver, and the streets will be a bit less dangerous.
A vote for Johnson is a vote for safety.
is this an attempt at humor?
there are other ways to make the city safer from distracted drivers, including johnson. better enforcement, stronger penalties for infractions are just two that come to mind immediately.
Not that I’m voting for Johnson, but she appears to be more of the law-n-order candidate than any of the other milk toast options there are. Of course, like most politicians, rules apply to the peasants and not the law makers.
Johnson has been in the legislature for 20 years, in very powerful positions. She has zero plan on how to fix the problems, just empty platitudes.
She’s attacked people, driven recklessly, and only accomplishments in the legislature are… oh, wait, she can’t name one. Except maybe helping stop action on the climate bill.
A vote for Johnson is a vote for incompetent leadership.
I couldn’t agree more strongly, JaredO. I think Watts was being funny about the hired driver. I mean – that would be such a tiny benefit of having Betsy as governor. And just remember how many thousand, or million, more dangerous drivers are out there. Removing just one doesn’t move the needle at all, and actually having someone with such a cavalier attitude in a leadership position would cause untold suffering.
Has anyone here ridden their bike on the spring water corridor lately? It’s filled with garbage, filth, drugs and crazies who may strike you as they please. That’s what 90 percent of Portland looks like. Tina Kotek has been in power all of this time and has done squat to fix the situation. So to the author of this article…. who exactly do you suppose we should vote for? Tina Kotek because she is for a bike path over a bridge? The candidate that has the most credibility and is most likely to clean up this state will have my vote. Other states don’t look like this… we preach conservation, nature etc… yet we enable criminals to destroy everything in this beautiful state. Time for new leadership.
“That’s what 90 percent of what Portland looks like.” This statement is so laughably hyperbolic. Yes, the Springwater is a mess. Freeway underpasses are trashed. Johnson seems to know how to complain but I can’t find anything resembling a platform for her campaign. Maybe I just suck at googling. What are her ideas?
I’m not excited about Kotek, but I’d vote for a dog with name tag before I vote for Johnson or Drazen.
This city is mess, it’s not hyperbole.
Johnson has been in office for 15 years and the problem is still there.
Is Betsy running for Governor of Portland? Was Tina Kotek the mayor? I’m confused.
I rode the entire thing last week. It was surprisingly clean, except between SE 92nd and 122nd. That’s about 5% of the trail.
I’d argue the Springwater sucks from 82nd to 136th, I’m on it very regularly. But I’m with you, most of the trail is fine.
Yup, I ride it all the time, there is one bad stretch that you both point out, but the rest of it is better than it was when I moved to SE in 2013. Lots of “sky is falling” comments from people living in the suburbs, but the reality on the ground in Portland isn’t nearly as bad as they imagine. There is certainly room for improvement, but that is the case for any city in the world.
Definitely agree about Springwater right now compared to 2013.
Ted Wheeler is the mayor of Portland, not Tina Kotek.
Has Johnson used the words “Shake things up” or similar? If the answer is yes, than I would agree completely with cc_rider and middle of the road in regards to the question posed by Mike Q and Ethanol.
This idea of “shaking things up” is antithetical to having a platform, it is a process in which the elected will outright ignore constituents, while blocking or at the very least hamstringing anything that could resemble change or progress in any direction, offering nothing and yet demanding that nothing is getting done. If we don’t like the status quo, we need policy driven by data and public opinion, not finger pointing and complaint. If you think me to be presumptuous in my estimate, than ask your closest Colorado transplant what they think of Gardner’s time in office, I am confident that their opinion will echo mine as sure as I am that they are nearby.
Her position on guns is her worst feature and why she should never be elected.
She will veto any legislation attempting to restrict any weapons. She owns a machine gun.
Literally a fanatic.
Fanatic or a responsible firearm owner? I haven’t read that she’s committed any crimes with her legally secured “machine gun”.
My prediction is that Johnson splits the extreme left and moderate vote — Drazen wins.
Don’t wanna get into a big scrap about firearms, but the “responsible firearm owner” designation is a distinction without a difference, since every firearm owner is a responsible firearm owner – until he decides not to be.
The distinction is a myth perpetuated by the NRA to distance themselves from the “crazies” who shouldn’t own guns in the first place, except that the NRA also opposes any law that would prevent crazies from getting guns.
But let’s get back to cycling here. Betsy would be THE WORST governor for cycling in Oregon, and anyone who cares about cycling should vote for someone else, IMHO.
Yeah those responsible gun owners are killing 38,000 people a year but carry on about your rights….