Lesbian Tina Kotek Wins Democratic Primary for Oregon Governor

·3 min read
Tina Kotek
Tina Kotek

Tina Kotek of Oregon is poised to become the first lesbian governor of any U.S. state.

Kotek, currently speaker of the Oregon House, easily won Tuesday’s Democratic primary for the gubernatorial nomination; about 9 p.m. local time, she had 56 percent of the vote, far ahead of her closest competitor, Oregon Treasurer Tobias Read, who had 34 percent, according to the Associated Press.

In the Republican gubernatorial primary, state legislator Christine Drazan won in a crowded field, with businessman Bob Tiernan coming in second. An independent candidate, former Republican Betsy Johnson, is also expected to be on the ballot for governor in November.

Kotek, a longtime social justice activist, was the first lesbian to be speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives (or speaker of any state House), and she’s also the longest-serving speaker. If elected governor, she will succeed fellow Democrat Kate Brown, who could not run again due to term limits. Brown was the nation’s first out bisexual governor. Jared Polis, a gay man, is governor of Colorado.

“My goal has always been to make things better for people,” Kotek told The Advocate in January. Before entering electoral politics, she was policy advocate at the Oregon Food Bank in Portland, then policy director for Children First for Oregon.

She released this statement Tuesday night: “I am deeply honored that Democratic voters across Oregon trust me to be their nominee. There is so much at stake: from protecting abortion access to defending our environment to standing up for working Oregonians who are still recovering from the pandemic. With so much on the line, Oregonians deserve someone who will fight for their interests.

“As we head into the November election, please know this: There is only one candidate running for governor who will stand up and fight to protect all Oregonians and move our state forward. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. We have people to house, a planet to save, and a better future to build. I’m running for governor because I believe in Oregon and I’m ready to fight to make sure our state lives up to its potential.

“To all the LGBTQ+ youth who are watching today, just remember you are limitless and the future is yours to create. Let tonight’s victory be an example for you that there is nothing that you can’t do.”

The LGBTQ Victory Fund, which had endorsed Kotek, celebrated her victory. It had named her a Game Changer candidate, a designation given to congressional and statewide candidates in history-making races.

“This is a momentous night for Oregon and LGBTQ people across the country,” Victory Fund President and CEO Annise Parker said in a press release. “Tina shattered this lavender ceiling because Oregonians are excited and enthusiastic about her vision for a more equitable, accepting future. As speaker, she delivered real results for her constituents. Now she is well-positioned to leverage her experience and exceptional qualifications to be Oregon’s next governor. With anti-LGBTQ attacks sweeping the country, her election is not only a rebuke of hate, but a beacon of hope for countless young LGBTQ people looking for inspiration during one of our nation’s darkest times.”

Also in Oregon, four out state representative candidates were running in Democratic primary races. Dacia Grayber, a queer woman, and two gay men, Travis Nelson and Ben Bowman, won their primaries; Grayber and Nelson are incumbents, Bowman a newcomer. Zeloszelos Marchandt, a trans man, lost to Farrah Chaichi in his primary.

In the Democratic primary for U.S. House from Oregon’s Fifth Congressional District, Jamie McLeod-Skinner, a lesbian and longtime activist, was leading incumbent Kurt Schrader, but that race hasn’t been called as of Wednesday.