Nike co-founder Phil Knight has thrown his largess behind the Republican candidate in Oregon’s race for governor because he’s fed up with his state’s left-leaning policies, the reticent billionaire said.
In a rare interview, the richest resident in the liberal Pacific Northwest bastion panned Oregon’s lenient drug laws — which decriminalized the possession for personal use of small amounts of all drugs, including cocaine, heroin, LSD — and its misguided priorities such as the 2019 ban on plastic straws.
“One of the political cartoons after our legislative session had a person snorting cocaine out of a mountain of white,” Knight told The New York Times over the weekend. “It said, ‘Which of these is illegal in Oregon?’ And the answer was the plastic straw.”
With current Democratic Oregon Gov. Kate Brown unable to run because of term limits, Knight has donated $1 million to Republican candidate Christine Drazan this month. He had also given $3.75 million to Independent candidate Betsy Johnson.
Knight’s donations — which represent the single largest financial support for both Johnson and Drazan — are an attempt to make sure Democratic candidate Tina Kotek does not win the statehouse, where a Democrat has held power since 1987.
“[I’m an] anti-Tina person,” he said, according to the Times.
The 84-year-old sneaker mogul switched his allegiance to Drazan because Johnson was lagging in recent polls, Knight told the outlet.
Knight’s infusion of cash has helped even the race. Kotek went from being the frontrunner to the Nov. 6 contest being declared a tossup, with Drazan pulling even or ahead in some polls.
But Knight’s support of Drazan could get Nike into hot water because of the Republican’s pro-life views in the wake of the Supreme Court’s striking down Roe v. Wade. Nike has vowed to cover the abortion expenses of its employees who live in states with restrictive abortion laws.
Drazan has said the state’s initiative to support women who travel to Oregon for abortions is “outside the mainstream.”
Knight is chairman Emeritus of Nike’s board and he attends its meetings as a non-voting observer, according to the company’s website.
“Nike has good leadership. They make choices, whatever they want, but I think I’m more conservative than Nike,” he told the Times when asked about the company’s policy in aiding employees seeking an abortion.
It’s not the first time, Knight has backed a Republican in his state. In 2018, the billionaire Knight donated $2.5 million to the campaign of Oregon Republican gubernatorial candidate Knute Buehler in his bid to unseat Brown. Buehler ended up losing 50.0% to 43.9%.
Knight also gave $1 million to the Republican Governors’ Association, which supported Buehler’s campaign.