(Update: Adding video, candidate comments)
And that's only about half the crowded Republican field
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Since 1987, Oregon has had a Democratic governor at the helm, but nearly a dozen Republican candidates are vying to change that in 2022.
Five of those candidates, including Brandon Merritt of Bend, gathered at the Bend Elks Lodge Wednesday evening for a meet and-greet and forum hosted by the Deschutes County Republicans, giving them a chance to debate various topics challenging the state.
But how would these GOP candidates stand out in such a crowded race?
"Ultimately, I think it comes to authenticity," Merritt said.
Some of the questions posed to candidates focused on topics like education, critical race theory, reproductive rights and taxes across the state.
Candidates like Bridget Barton, who works as a Republican consultant, and Alsea schools Superintendent Marc Thielman said they believe an executive order is needed to get rid of critical race theory across public schools.
"By executive order, I would ban critical race theory in schools immediately," Barton said.
Thielman says he was approached by his staff members years ago about CRT curriculum.
"When CRT was brought to me many, many years ago, they said, 'We've got to do this," Thielman said. "I said, 'We could, but no.'"
And when it came to reproductive rights, all of the candidates on hand said they are "unabashedly" or "unapologetically" pro-life.
Baker City Mayor Kerry McQuisten said she's a Christian, a conservative and pro-life.
"If I go in and have an abortion, I am not the one who dies -- my baby will die," McQuisten said. "Your tax dollars should not be funding this."
Others, like Amber Richardson, who works as a small business owner, say higher taxes have hurt people like herself, and something needs to change for the middle class to survive.
"I have been hurt very badly, with a lot of these taxes and regulations," Richardson said. "I also have to listen to a board, and with my board, they change it every two years. They give me another regulation or another fee."
And with the state still facing a pandemic, candidates like Merritt say they are done with mask and vaccine mandates.
"The reality, is we are coming out of this pandemic," Merritt said. "And there's no science behind the fact we're putting masks on children in the most formidable years of their lives."
The candidates in attendance included: