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Jan. 13—ELGIN — A remark from an Oregon gubernatorial candidate regarding a local Union County city likely meant no harm, despite its connotation.
Betsy Johnson, running as an independent candidate, commented on her thoughts about a lack of safety across Oregon in an interview with Willamette Week on Wednesday, Jan. 5 — the quote tied in Elgin, a small town at the northern end of the Grande Ronde Valley. When asked when Oregon "lost its way," Johnson stated that Oregon citizens are not safe on the streets, regardless of what town you live in.
"We really lost our way with the advent of COVID. It seems to be a kind of collision of catastrophes. We've got 13 counties, a third of our land mass, wanting to flee to Idaho. We've got people not safe on this streets, whether you're in Elgin or Laurelhurst," Johnson told the Willamette Week.
Johnson later cleared the air, noting that Elgin was the first city on the east side of the state that she could think of at the time.
"I just pulled it out of the air," she said. "I was just thinking about a small town somewhere in Eastern Oregon."
Johnson explained that the quote was not intended as a dig to Elgin, stating that she has visited the Northeastern Oregon town in the past.
"I've been to Elgin and I had Elgin on the brain," she said. "I just purely picked it out of the air, there was nothing specific."
Elgin Mayor Risa Hallgarth weighed in on the quote, stating she has no idea why Johnson would mention Elgin by name in that context.
"Everybody has their problems, but I don't feel unsafe at all here and I've lived here all my life," she said. "I don't know why she would have said Elgin, maybe because it's small in comparison to other towns."
Hallgarth said that while crime occurs in every city, she disagrees with tying in Elgin as unsafe.
"We don't have gang issues or drive-by shootings. We don't have a lot of this stuff that the larger towns have," she said. "I walk a lot, at night sometimes."
Union County Sheriff Cody Bowen stated there is no recent criminal activity that would give credence to a specific reference to Elgin as an unsafe city.
"I don't know what she would be referring to, other than reaching out to the furthest part of the state," he said.
Johnson, a former state senator for District 16, resigned Dec. 15 from the Oregon Legislature to focus full-time on her statewide run. She represented a swath of Northwestern Oregon since 2001 that included Clatsop, Tillamook, Columbia, Multnomah and Washington counties.
Johnson is aiming to be the first independent candidate to become Oregon governor since Julius L. Meier did so in 1931. She will need to collect approximately 24,000 signatures to make it on the 2022 November ballot.