Nike Touts Its Climate Initiatives. So Why Is Phil Knight Bankrolling A Logging Industry Ally?

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Nike, the Oregon-headquartered footwear and apparel giant, has worked successful caller years to boost ― immoderate reason greenwash — its representation via sustainability initiatives.

The company’s “Move to Zero” run includes helping to safeguard 1 of the astir important earthy tools successful the combat against clime change: forests. Through a partnership with WeForest, an planetary reforestation organization, Nike says it has funded planting much than 1.4 cardinal trees successful Brazil and Ethiopia. And successful its autochthonal Oregon, the institution has purchased wood c offsets from EFM, a Portland-based concern manager, to marque up for emissions associated with shipping its merchandise.

But arsenic Nike portrays itself a champion of forests and an state successful the planetary clime fight, the company’s billionaire co-founder and president emeritus, Phil Knight, is pumping immense wealth to 1 of the biggest governmental allies of Oregon’s logging industry.

Knight has fixed an astonishing $1.75 cardinal to timber heiress and erstwhile Democratic authorities Sen. Betsy Johnson’s bid for Oregon governor. Johnson, 71, has a agelong grounds of catering to extractive industries, namely the logging assemblage that wields tremendous powerfulness successful Oregon and that made her and her household rich. That deference has precocious earned her admiration and adjacent an grant from pro-logging activists successful the authorities with ties to respective right-wing extremist groups.

Johnson shook up the gubernatorial contention precocious past twelvemonth erstwhile she resigned from the Oregon legislature, wherever she’d served connected the Senate’s almighty associated ways and means committee, near the Democratic Party, and announced her autarkic candidacy for governor. Johnson officially qualified to look connected the November ballot precocious past month, aft gathering and submitting the required 23,744 valid signatures. She faces Democrat Tina Kotek, the erstwhile talker of Oregon’s House of Representatives, and Republican Christine Drazan, the erstwhile Oregon House number leader.

Oregon has had a Democratic politician since 1987 and lone erstwhile successful its past elected a third-party oregon unaffiliated candidate. Current Democratic Gov. Kate Brown, 1 of the astir unpopular governors successful the nation, is incapable to question reelection owed to word limits.

Johnson portrays herself a mean successful a tract of extremists, idiosyncratic who tin pb from the mediate to find communal crushed astatine a clip of fierce governmental division. “To bash that, we request to recapture the maverick spirit, interruption escaped from the straitjacket of extremism and enactment politics,” she said during a July campaigner debate. “We request to enactment the radical backmost successful charge.”

It mightiness beryllium an appealing connection successful a polarized authorities similar Oregon. But her clime grounds and ties to manufacture has activists shaken.

“We are each a small terrified present successful the biology community,” said Steve Pedery, conservation manager astatine Oregon Wild, a Portland-based biology group. Oregon Wild Conservation Leaders Fund, a abstracted but affiliated 401(c)4 nonprofit, is down an anti-Johnson website called “Corporate Bought Betsy.”

“Her inheritance and governmental affiliations are with the worst of the worst logging manufacture players retired here,” Pedery said, adding that she has mostly shown “contempt” for timber interests that person embraced much liable and sustainable practices.

Johnson’s run did not respond to HuffPost’s requests for comment.

Attempts to interaction Knight via a Nike spokesperson were unsuccessful. Nike did not respond to HuffPost’s requests for remark astir its founder’s contributions and however they quadrate with the company’s forestry initiatives successful Oregon and abroad.

Unaffiliated campaigner  Betsy Johnson speaks during a gubernatorial statement   hosted by the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association connected  July 29.
Unaffiliated campaigner Betsy Johnson speaks during a gubernatorial statement hosted by the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association connected July 29.

Jaime Valdez/Pamplin Media Group via AP, Pool

A Potential Spoiler

Johnson is simply a serious, but agelong shot, contender for governor. She brings a mixed container of governmental priorities: On 1 hand, she’s vowed to support Oregonians’ termination rights; connected the other, she has dubbed Portland a “city of roaches” and promised a tough-on-crime attack to transgression offenders and stateless people. She has besides pledged to support “culture wars” retired of schoolhouse classrooms.

On climate, Johnson lone thinly disguises her chiefly right-wing docket that is heavy favorable to timber interests successful the authorities — and galore environmentalists are acrophobic that, adjacent if she ne'er comes to enact it, her beingness successful the contention could extremity the contention to the Republican candidate, who successful 2020 led authorities GOP House members successful a walkout to artifact Democrats from passing clime legislation.

These concerns are evidently not shared by Knight, oregon “Uncle Phil,” arsenic helium is affectionately known successful Oregon. He is by acold Johnson’s biggest backer, accounting for astir one-quarter of the wealth she’s raised.

With 2 months until the election, Johnson has a warfare thorax that tops some main-party candidates. She has raked successful much than $8 cardinal successful run contributions and has astir $3 cardinal currency connected hand, according to authorities run concern data. Kotek has raised $8 cardinal and has $1.8 cardinal connected hand. Drazan has raised $7 million, with $1 cardinal successful the bank.

It’s not the archetypal clip the Nike laminitis has utilized his luck to effort to sway an Oregon race. In 2018, Knight gave a stunning $2.5 cardinal to GOP gubernatorial campaigner Knute Buehler’s unsuccessful bid — contributions that Rolling Stone newsman Tim Dickinson wrote astatine the clip “seem retired of step” with Nike’s progressive run advertisement starring erstwhile NFL backmost Colin Kaepernick. Nike Inc. gave $85,000 to Democratic incumbent Gov. Kate Brown that cycle.

Knight retired arsenic Nike’s president successful 2016. Although his day-to-day activities with the institution person ceased, helium remains an honorary committee subordinate and tin be committee meetings arsenic an observer. His son, Travis Knight, has served connected Nike’s committee of directors since 2015.

Phil Knight, co-founder and president  emeritus of Nike, has contributed $1.75 cardinal  to Johnson's campaign.
Phil Knight, co-founder and president emeritus of Nike, has contributed $1.75 cardinal to Johnson's campaign.

Drew Angerer via Getty Images

Joining Knight successful backing Johnson’s run is simply a wide array of ample timber interests. The Pape Group, a supplier of dense logging equipment, has donated $750,000. Sierra Pacific Industries, the 2nd largest lumber shaper successful the U.S., has chipped successful $200,000. Roseburg Forest Products Co. has fixed $150,000. And Johnson received $100,000 each from Hampton Lumber, Robert Freres Jr., the president of Freres Lumber Co., and Paula Teevin, the woman of Teevin Bros. Land and Timber Co. proprietor Shawn Teevin.

Johnson has walked a good enactment successful talking astir who volition beryllium her precedence if elected. She has said her run is “powered by the radical of Oregon,” and that her “loyalty resides with them, not with immoderate governmental enactment oregon peculiar interest.” On the flip side, she welcomed enactment from Knight and promised to person concern executives, including presumably those timber CEOs, connected “speed dial.”

“I americium arrogant to person [Knight] and different occupation creators successful Oregon successful my corner,” she said successful an April interview with KOIN 6 TV successful Portland, going connected to bemoan Oregon arsenic “unfriendly to business.”

The statement among governmental observers successful Oregon seems to beryllium that portion Johnson is improbable to prevail successful November, she could easy spoil the contention successful either direction. In a March interview with KOIN 6, then-GOP gubernatorial campaigner Bud Pierce said Johnson would gully much Democratic votes, and her candidacy “sets up” a imaginable GOP triumph successful November. “It’s our chance,” Pierce said.

A Republican-commissioned poll successful June showed Johnson trailing Drazan and Kotek by astatine slightest 7 and 8 points, respectively, among apt voters. And successful August, the Center for Politics astatine the University of Virginia changed the contention to a “toss up,” noting that the three-way contention “sets up an antithetic concern wherever the victor whitethorn not request to ace adjacent 40%.” It added that Johnson would beryllium the “the astir astonishing winner,” and that “Kotek and Drazan some volition beryllium moving to effort to forestall their voters from flocking to her banner.”

Neil O’Brian, a political idiosyncratic astatine the University of Oregon, stressed that portion wealth often correlates with governmental success, not each run donations are equal. He compared Johnson’s fundraising to that of erstwhile House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s unsuccessful bid for the Republican statesmanlike information successful 2012, erstwhile helium received millions of dollars from billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson but failed to garner grassroots fiscal support.

“I deliberation that’s benignant of what’s happening to Betsy Johnson now,” O’Brian said. “She’s attracting high-dollar donors, but she’s not getting a batch of small-dollar donations that matter. Getting a batch of donations from a batch of antithetic sources tends to bespeak that you person wide governmental support. She conscionable doesn’t person that.”

Johnson is assured successful her chances and has dismissed the thought that her relation is that of a torpedo.

“Whoever finishes 3rd successful this contention is going to beryllium the spoiler, but I afloat expect that I’m going to beryllium the adjacent politician of the authorities of Oregon,” she told KOIN 6.

The ‘Biggest Obstacle To Climate Progress’

Johnson’s run website includes an entire section astir clime alteration being 1 of her precedence issues. In it, she calls clime alteration “the top menace to our environment” and says Oregon has “a work to ourselves and the adjacent procreation to bash our portion to support our clime and planet.”

But her connection for confronting it, portion vague, reads similar thing crafted successful an manufacture boardroom oregon taken consecutive from a Republican clime strategy: less regulations, prioritizing backstage assemblage innovation to chopped emissions, and accrued logging arsenic a solution to utmost wildfire.

“I’ll enactment Oregonians to enactment successful the woods to amended negociate our forests, with thinning, controlled burns, and sustainable forestry practices,” her website reads.

An aerial photograph   of logging clear-cuts successful  the wood  adjacent   Yachats successful  Lincoln County, Oregon.
An aerial photograph of logging clear-cuts successful the wood adjacent Yachats successful Lincoln County, Oregon.

halbergman via Getty Images

It’s existent that decades of assertive occurrence suppression person near America’s forests overgrown and prone to utmost fire, and that amended absorption tin trim wildfire hazard and marque forests much resilient. But speech to immoderate clime adept oregon wood ecologist, and they’ll archer you America can’t simply log its mode retired of its wildfire problem, which is being exacerbated by rising temperatures and drought.

Johnson’s website says small astir addressing the fossil substance emissions that are driving the planetary crisis, different than that she’d “continue pushing Oregon into a greenish vigor future, including protecting the 100% c escaped hydro.”

It’s a level that would, however, payment Oregon’s timber industry. Johnson hails from a logging family. Her precocious father, Sam Johnson, was a third-generation timber antheral who for decades marketed and sold wood from his family’s immense timber holdings. He served 7 presumption arsenic a Republican authorities typical and aboriginal arsenic politician of Redmond, a tiny municipality northbound of Bend.

Around the clip of her father’s decease successful 1984, Johnson began inheriting her chunk of the timber household luck — astatine slightest $11 million, The Oregonian reported past month. She has refused to merchandise her taxation returns, arguing she has a law close to privacy. Still, it is wide she would participate the governor’s bureau with myriad imaginable conflicts of interest. Johnson maintains an extended banal portfolio, including investments successful timber institution Weyerhaeuser, aviation elephantine Boeing and lipid institution Global Partners, each of which person operations successful Oregon, according to a 2021 fiscal disclosure statement.

Family timber luck and idiosyncratic investments aside, Johnson has played an outsized relation successful blocking clime enactment astatine the authorities level. In 2019, Oregon Republican authorities senators fled the Oregon State Capitol successful Salem to contradict the Democratic bulk the quorum needed to ballot connected and walk a sweeping cap-and-trade bill. During the weeklong standoff, Gov. Brown dispatched authorities troopers to way down the lawmakers, and instrumentality enforcement was forced to adjacent the capitol successful effect to threats of unit from militia groups.

In the end, Democrats fell short of the 16 votes needed to walk the bill, contempt their 18-11 bulk successful the Senate. Johnson was 1 of 3 Democrats who opposed the measure.

The pursuing year, a 2nd iteration of the clime measure came up for a vote. Again, Republicans fled municipality to protestation what Drazan, present the GOP nominee for governor, astatine the clip called a “rigged” process. Days later, successful effect to legislative inaction, Brown signed an enforcement bid that established much ambitious authorities clime goals, capped greenhouse state emissions from concern and vigor sectors and directed authorities agencies to aggressively curb contamination and amended vigor efficiency.

If elected, Johnson and Drazan person some vowed to repeal Brown’s clime order. At the July debate, Johnson called it a “complete usurpation of the legislative process.”

“Climate alteration is existent and Oregon has to bash its stock to little our c footprint,” she said. “But I cull the premise that the progressive bills that were brought guardant — that the economical load should autumn connected hard-working Oregonians.”

Demonstrators against a cap-and-trade measure  aimed astatine  stemming planetary  warming protestation  connected  Feb. 6, 2020, astatine  the Oregon State Capitol successful  Salem.
Demonstrators against a cap-and-trade measure aimed astatine stemming planetary warming protestation connected Feb. 6, 2020, astatine the Oregon State Capitol successful Salem.

AP Photo/Andrew Selsky

On her clime page, Johnson touts her 64% beingness score from the left-leaning Oregon League of Conservation Voters. “I americium arrogant of that,” she writes.

The feeling is not mutual. The organization’s enforcement director, Doug Moore, told HuffPost that Johnson has been “terrible” connected climate, voting against each important portion of clime authorities implicit the past decade. He called her people “artificially inflated,” citing however her enactment was often indispensable for authorities to marque it to the level for a vote.

“She was perpetually seeking to undermine those efforts, voting against them, speaking retired against them successful caucus trying to halt them, trying to transportation different colleagues to reason it, holding her ballot for ransom connected unrelated pieces of authorities successful bid to termination things,” Moore said. “A batch of that worldly is much qualitative than quantitative. It doesn’t amusement up needfully connected a scorecard. But I would perfectly accidental that the azygous biggest obstacle to clime advancement was Betsy Johnson being that cardinal ballot successful the Oregon Senate.”

One of Johnson’s last acts successful the authorities legislature earlier her resignation was voting against an ambitious measure that requires the state’s largest powerfulness companies to scope 100% cleanable vigor by 2040. Brown signed the measure into instrumentality past July.

It’s an anti-environment, pro-industry grounds that has earned Johnson fans successful far-right circles.

‘One Of Us’

In February 2020, Timber Unity, past a fledgling pro-logging, anti-environmental group, organized a rally extracurricular the capitol to reason the 2nd cap-and-trade bill. As has go the norm for Timber Unity events, the rally drew far-right extremists, anti-vaxxers and QAnon conspiracists. Members of the anti-government militia Three Percenters (also known arsenic III% oregon Threepers) flew the organization’s emblem and wore sweatshirts that work “When Tyranny Becomes Law — Rebellion Becomes Duty.”

It was mostly a right-wing matter to propulsion backmost against Oregon’s latest effort to face the undeniable and mounting clime threat. Yet, determination successful the heavy of it was Johnson, past inactive a almighty Democratic authorities senator. Photos from that time amusement Johnson proudly hoisting supra her caput some a #TimberUnity motion and a chunk of wood emblazoned with a loaded logging motortruck successful beforehand of the authorities capitol gathering — a “courage and condemnation award” that the radical bestowed connected Johnson for her outsize relation successful sidesplitting the aforesaid authorities the erstwhile year.

“This pistillate present is simply a Democrat, but she is 1 of us,” Jeff Leavy, the laminitis of Timber Unity, said successful his introduction. Johnson thanked the assemblage for “standing strong” against what she dismissed arsenic a “bad bill.”

Timber Unity has galore connections to far-right militias and different extremists, as Mother Jones and different outlets person detailed.

What precocious looked similar a budding narration betwixt Johnson and Timber Unity appears to person fallen apart, arsenic Johnson seemingly works to region herself from her astir utmost supporters. In a post past period to Facebook, Angelita Sanchez, the Timber Unity spokeswoman who marched connected the U.S. Capitol connected Jan. 6, 2021, but aboriginal condemned the violence, wrote that she had been successful predominant interaction with Johnson, and that Johnson had asked for Timber Unity’s endorsement. But erstwhile Sanchez approached Johnson to speech look to look during an lawsuit successful the municipality of Sweet Home, wherever Sanchez serves arsenic a metropolis councilwoman, Johnson repeatedly “turned her back,” Sanchez claimed.

Rolling Stone precocious asked Johnson astir her transportation to Timber Unity. Sanchez is “no person of mine,” she told the magazine. Timber Unity has since snubbed Johnson back. This week, the radical endorsed Drazan successful the race.

Johnson precocious received and rejected an endorsement from Mike Nearman, the erstwhile Republican authorities lawmaker who was expelled from the Oregon House aft helium helped a radical of armed, violent, far-right protesters breach the authorities capitol successful December 2020 — a benignant of prequel to the onslaught connected the U.S. Capitol a period later.

“I didn’t inquire for his endorsement, I don’t privation his endorsement and I cull his endorsement,” Johnson said successful a connection to The Oregonian. “He broke the law, helium incited unit astatine our Capitol and he’s an extremist.”

Nike did not respond to galore requests for remark for this story. When the institution announced its plans to acquisition c offsets from EFM’s 2 forestry projects successful Oregon, Bert Stevens, the vice president of Nike’s North American proviso chain, said Nike hoped “to elevate the captious value of Pacific Northwest forests successful reducing planetary emissions and item the imaginable that climate-smart forestry has to lend to mitigating clime alteration successful a meaningful way.”

But if Betsy Johnson manages to triumph oregon spoil the November election, Oregon volition person Nike’s billionaire laminitis to convey successful portion for the backward steps connected clime that volition apt follow.

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