Less than six months after she became Baker City’s mayor, Kerry McQuisten is vying for a higher political office, one in which her constituents would number nearly 4.3 million rather than 10,000.
McQuisten announced her candidacy for Oregon governor on Tuesday, June 29.
McQuisten, 49, will seek the Republican nomination in the May 2022 primary.
“I’m excited to get started,” McQuisten said on Tuesday. “It’s an adventure.”
Although McQuisten said her disdain for current Gov. Kate Brown’s policies — McQuisten on her website describes the Democrat governor’s pandemic policies as “draconian lockdowns” — McQuisten, should she win the Republican primary, won’t have a chance to unseat Brown.
Brown is precluded from serving another four-year term due to Oregon’s term limits law, so Oregonians will elect a new governor in November 2022.
But though she won’t run against Brown, McQuisten said the governor’s approach will be a focal point of her campaign.
“COVID is just indicative of how the Kate Brown regime has been run,” McQuisten said. “But it’s not the only issue. There’s also the matter of rebuilding the state’s economy, the education system, a number of things that cross party lines.”
Appealing to Democrats is vital — indeed, it’s a prerequisite — for any Republican who hopes to become the first GOP candidate to be elected governor in four decades.
Vic Atiyeh, who served two terms, is the last Republican governor in Oregon. He was elected to his second term in 1982.
McQuisten, a seventh-generation Baker County resident who was raised on a cattle ranch in the Burnt River area, recognizes how daunting the challenge is.
The more immediate obstacle isn’t 40 years of electoral history, but rather the current political affiliations of Oregon voters.
There are one-third more registered Democrats in the state — 1,035,000 — than registered Republicans, at 738,000.
Nonaffiliated voters also outnumber Republicans, at 963,000.
But statistics notwithstanding, McQuisten believes the political climate, and in particular dissatisfaction with Brown’s executive orders that imposed some of the most stringent restrictions on businesses of any state during the pandemic, gives Republicans a unique opportunity in 2022.
“Change is in the air,” she said. “After the past two years, if voters in Oregon aren’t willing to make big changes, they probably never will.”
McQuisten said she’s encouraged about the prospects for a Republican to win the governorship in part due to conversations she’s had over the past few months with residents across the state, including some lifelong Democrats.
“Some have told me they voted for Kate Brown but would never do so again,” McQuisten said.
Although McQuisten is well-versed in politics — her mother, Suzan Ellis Jones, has been chair of the Baker County Republican Party for many years, and McQuisten has been an elected GOP precinct committee person — she said her interest in seeking a different elected office is relatively new.
“A year ago I had no interest in running for any political office,” she said.
McQuisten ran for Baker City Council in 2020, citing among other issues her concerns about increasing crime in the city and how the city pursues economic development.
She received the most votes among 13 candidates on the November ballot.
Then, when the new city council convened for its first meeting in January 2021, the seven-member council elected McQuisten as mayor by a 6-1 vote.
(In Baker City’s council-manager form of government, the councilors, not voters, choose the mayor, who sets meeting agendas but does not have veto power or other authority beyond the other councilors’.)
But the key event that led to McQuisten’s gubernatorial campaign happened on March 23 — although its importance wasn’t immediately obvious.
That’s the day the city council, at McQuisten’s urging and by a 5-2 vote, approved Resolution 3881. The document blames Brown’s COVID-19 restrictions for creating an “economic, mental health and criminal activity crisis” in the city.
The resolution didn’t generate much publicity outside the county initially.
But then, on April 28, PJ Media published an online story about the resolution, including comments from McQuisten.
Interest in the resolution has been “nonstop” since then, she said.
She was interviewed on Fox News’ Primetime news program on May 3, and elected officials from several other Oregon cities have contacted McQuisten for advice about pursuing a similar resolution in their communities.
McQuisten said publicity about Baker City’s resolution has also prompted residents throughout Oregon to get in touch with her to share their frustrations about Brown’s executive orders.
“More and more people reached out,” she said.
Some of the people she talked with suggested she consider running for governor, an idea that McQuisten said she previously hadn’t broached — even at the hypothetical level.
Over the past couple months, though, she said she began to ponder the possibility, and with growing seriousness.
“It’s kind of been a slow build,” she said. “I feel like I’m just going with the flow.”
McQuisten said she was hardly surprised that her fellow Republicans were incensed by Brown’s actions.
But she said that hearing similar complaints from longtime Democrats were compelling.
“People are looking for someone who’s completely willing to fight for Oregon,” she said.
On her website — kerrymcquisten.com — McQuisten writes that she was also persuaded in part by the reality that as a mayor she has limited power.
“It quickly became clear that I couldn’t serve in the way I’d like unless I ran for a higher office,” she wrote on the front page of her website. “Oregonians need a leader who will get our children back in school, fight for medical freedoms, protect our individual constitutional rights, prevent criminals from burning and destroying our once-flourishing cities, remind Oregonians of their inherent pioneer spirit, and prevent the kind of rule we’ve seen from ever happening again.”
McQuisten said she wouldn’t be surprised if a dozen Republicans vie for the party’s nomination in May 2022.
She said she watched earlier this year as candidates declared, waiting to see if there was one who she could support.
“There was no one I could fully get behind, none that I think can beat any Democrat,” McQuisten said.
The GOP field so far includes Bud Pierce, who lost to Brown in 2016, receiving 43.5% of the vote.
“People are really tired of perennial candidates,” McQuisten said.
Running for governor requires significant fundraising, McQuisten said, and she will have a volunteer coordinator in each of Oregon’s 36 counties,
“I’m already putting a strong team in place,” she said.
McQuisten said she will schedule meet-and-greet events statewide. The first — “naturally,” she said — will be at the Republican Party booth in Geiser-Pollman Park during Miners Jubilee, July 16-18.
“Fundraising is a huge focus — every candidate has that — but I have to run a campaign that feels authentic to me, a Reagan-style campaign,” she said.