Oregon voters are poised to elect a woman to succeed another woman as governor — a rarity in the United States — as a result of the May 17 primary.
Voters also put women in position to win four of Oregon's six seats in the U.S. House, including the newly created 6th District that winds from Portland suburbs into the mid-Willamette Valley. One of those races could pit a Democratic woman against a Republican woman, although the vote count is incomplete in the Democratic primary for the 5th District seat.
Oregon has just one woman in its current congressional delegation.
Voters also could add to the record number of women, now 40, in the Oregon Legislature.
A national expert says that, unlike 1992 and 2018, she does not foresee this election as "the year of the woman" on a national level. That label has popped up from time to time as the nation sees spikes in women running for, and winning, office.
"However, you have a unique situation in Oregon," said Kelly Dittmar, director of research at the Center for American Women and Politics, part of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University. "You have more potential for success by women, particularly in the congressional contests, so you have a different situation than has been seen in recent years."
Oregon's pending gubernatorial race — with Democrat Tina Kotek of Portland, Republican Christine Drazan of Canby and unaffiliated Betsy Johnson of Scappoose — would be only the fifth time in U.S. history that women have gone head to head for governor. According to the center, the others were Nebraska in 1986, Hawaii in 2002, and New Mexico and Oklahoma in 2010.
The center does not track third-party candidates, so Oregon may be a first with a trio of women candidates.
Whoever wins will succeed Kate Brown, a Democrat who is barred by term limits from running again. All three candidates have been in the Legislature: Johnson for 21 years, Kotek for 15 years and Drazan for three years, plus two years as chief of staff to the House speaker.
Oregon will be the third state where a woman will succeed another woman as governor, following Arizona in 2009 and New Mexico in 2019.
Meanwhile, voters nominated Democrat Andrea Salinas of Lake Oswego, a state representative, for the new 6th District, and Democrat Val Hoyle of Springfield, the state labor commissioner and a former representative, for the 4th District seat being vacated by Democrat Peter DeFazio of Springfield after 36 years. Incumbent Democrat Suzanne Bonamici of Beaverton was renominated for a sixth full term in the 1st District.
Salinas will face Mike Erickson, a Lake Oswego businessman and a two-time GOP nominee in the 5th District. Hoyle will face Alex Skarlatos of Roseburg, a Republican who lost to DeFazio in 2020.
Uncounted ballots in Clackamas County will determine the fate of Jamie McLeod-Skinner of Terrebonne, who currently is leading seven-term incumbent Kurt Schrader in the Democratic primary in the 5th District.
Republicans nominated Lori Chavez-DeRemer, a former mayor of Happy Valley.
If Schrader loses, it will be the first time since 1980 — when Ron Wyden unseated Democrat Bob Duncan — that an Oregon incumbent lost in the primary.
For the position Hoyle is vacating, Christina Stephenson of Portland is likely to face Cheri Helt of Bend in the fall. Stephenson, a civil rights lawyer, won 47%, and Helt, a former Republican state representative, 19%, in a seven-candidate field.
Oregon ranks high
According to an index by the Rutgers center, Oregon ranks third among the states, based on women's shares of congressional delegations, statewide executive offices including governor and state legislatures.
Oregon is topped only by Nevada and Colorado — neither of which has had a woman as governor — and is one of six states in the top 10; the others are in the Northeast. Women could vote in several states, including Oregon, before the 20th Amendment in 1920 extended that right to women in the rest of the nation.
In the May 17 primary, women won both major-party nominations for five Senate seats, and a woman was nominated by one party for five more seats. (Sixteen seats are up, but one is for a two-year term.) In the 60-member House, women won both major-party nominations for nine seats and a woman was nominated by one party for 25 seats.
A new index by the Rutgers center, compiled in March, put Oregon fourth (at 41.4%) in the share of women holding office in cities with 10,000 or more people. It trails only Hawaii, Alaska and Colorado, although Hawaii has just one city and Alaska six with more than 10,000; Oregon has 57.
Jessica Mole Heilman is the director of the Center for Women's Leadership at Portland State University. She's been director since 2020, and said women have progressed in politics in the decades since Roberts and others led the way.
"We are beginning to see parts of the future that the movement leaders of generations past dreamed about," Mole Heilman said in an email. "As firsts paved the way, today's emergent (women and gender-expansive) leaders are demanding representational leadership that can speak to their lived experience."
But Mole Heilman said recent developments — particularly the draft U.S. Supreme Court opinion that may overturn its 1973 decision supporting abortion as a federal constitutional right — have brought on new challenges to women.
"We are seeing a growing attack on women and gender-expansive people's basic human rights with an uncertain future — reproductive justice, continued erasure and silencing of women and gender-expansive voices and experiences — disproportionately impacting women and gender-expansive people of color," she said.
Dittmar and former Gov. Barbara Roberts say some older barriers remain, even though the number of women elected continues to grow.
"Fundraising is something women always say is harder for them," Dittmar said. "There is some evidence to prove that is the case. It is harder for women to get to the same amounts."
In the May 17 primary, Kotek and Drazan led in fundraising for governor, but McLeod-Skinner and Salinas trailed their male opponents.
Roberts said female candidates still get asked about balancing family and public responsibilities. She said men are not asked.
"Some people assume that a female is the caregiver in all cases and cannot imagine that a mother, which is a full-time job, can hold statewide office," she said. "Is it a challenge? You bet it is. But we know how to do it. It's not unusual in this culture or in other cultures that women are the bread winners."