PORTLAND, Ore. — Oregon's Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tina Kotek publicly called on unaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson last week to condemn the presence of Confederate flags at her campaign rallies.
The challenge spawned from a Johnson campaign event in St. Helens that Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) covered Thursday. During the event, OPB noted that some people in the crowd were wearing Confederate flag t-shirts.
The next day, Kotek's campaign jumped on that detail and sent out a press release hours before their first gubernatorial debate. She asked if Johnson would speak out against racist symbols at her rallies.
During the debate, a question came up about the Greater Idaho Movement, where people in rural Oregon counties are campaigning to leave Oregon to join Idaho. The candidates were discussing tension between the state's urban and rural areas.
Johnson said that when Kotek put out the press release about the Confederate flag shirts, it hurt the relationship between rural and urban Oregon.
"She is suggesting that because someone was at one of my rallies with a Confederate flag, that rural Oregonians are racist and that you have to be racist to support my campaign," Johnson said during the debate. "That is anything but the truth. That exacerbates the divide. I condemn racism, discrimination and bigotry in any form, and somehow to imply that racists are attending my event just drives home the point that urban Oregon doesn't understand rural Oregon."
While she condemned racism, she did not specifically condemn the Confederate flag, which is what Kotek asked for in her press release.
Drazan was asked if she had anything to say, and she simply shook her head no.
KGW reached out to Johnson's campaign to see if she had anything to say about this whole thing.
She responded: "This is ridiculous. As I said during the debate, I am against all forms of racism, and that includes the Confederate flag. An OPB reporter seeing one guy in a t-shirt at a rally doesn't say anything about everybody else who was there."
On Wednesday, Dr. Rosa Colquitt, the chair of the Democratic Party of Oregon's Black Caucus, said that this should have been a moment for Johnson to clearly state the Confederate flag is a symbol of hate.
"Instead, Johnson deflected responsibility and blame onto our rural communities and perpetuated the very divide that she claims she, and only she, can repair," Dr. Colquitt said.
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