The Oregonian recently reported the results of a poll showing that voters overwhelmingly supported their local police departments and would be overwhelmingly considering public safety issues when voting for Governor. This may explain why Democratic nominee Tina Kotek has seemed to abruptly pivot away from her record as House Speaker of stymying law enforcement statewide.
The takeaway of the Oregonian's poll, published October 3, is that with crime emerging as more and more of a significant issue of concern for many families, 93% of voters counted public safety as an "important" issue to them in the Governor's race, while a whopping 70% of voters expressed confidence in their local police department.
The confidence in local law enforcement, coupled with the staggering 93% of voters who say that public safety issues are likely to play a role in their voting behaviors in the upcoming Gubernatorial election, might give a clue to why Oregonians saw a drastically different position from Tina Kotek the following evening.
At a KATU debate on October 4, when the issue of public safety came up Kotek's answer with regard to local law enforcement seemed reasonable but completely detached from her legislative record:
"The number one job of a Governor is to keep people safe. And for me that means working with local law enforcement to make sure they have what they need to address crime. ... Give local law enforcement the ability to get those drugs off the street."
That quote, however, does not resemble her record as Speaker, which was marked by muscling through a number of barriers to safe, fair, and effective policing. Chief (no pun intended) among those barriers was House Bill 3614 in 2021 (sponsored by Speaker Kotek) which gutted Oregon's "interfering with an peace officer" law and eliminated the requirement of suspects to obey lawful orders. At that time, Kotek's stated impetus for changing the statute was a broad indictment on law enforcement:
"The statute is being misused resulting in arrests for non-criminal behavior."
Despite pleas from the law enforcement community, Speaker Kotek's House passed the bill out with less than an hour's worth of public hearing time.
Another measure of Kotek's in that same session, House Bill 2002, sought to ensure that officers were prohibited from pulling over vehicles with faulty headlights, taillights, or brake lights. While that specific measure didn't make it over the finish line before the end of the 2021 session, it was queued up for successful passage several months later as SB 1510. It is difficult to reconcile Kotek's recent public commitment to "keep people safe" and to ensure that law enforcement officers "have what they need to address crime" with a measure specifically designed to ensure that officers were prohibited from engaging in enforcement activities.
Combined with a litany of other Kotek-supported measures, including restricting crowd control options, efforts to decriminalize trespass and theft, and of course the slashing of law enforcement officer pensions, it's a wonder that Kotek can imply she has public safety interests at heart with a straight face.
According to the Oregonian, however, voters sure do. Will Kotek be able to catch up to that sentiment by election day? Time will tell.