By Steve Arthur, Vice President
With the resignation of Governor John Kitzhaber (D) effective Wednesday, February 18, Secretary of State Kate Brown (D) will assume the office since Oregon has no Lt. Governor. So what can we expect from incoming Governor Brown?
While certainly not a household name nationally, she is well known in Oregon politics. She began service in the Oregon House of Representatives when she was appointed to an open seat in 1991. After being elected in her own right to two terms, she was elected to the state Senate in 1996. In 1998, her Democratic colleagues elected her Senate Democratic Leader and in 2004 she was elected Oregon’s first female Senate Majority Leader. She was elected to her first term as Secretary of State in 2008 and was re-elected in 2012.
When she assumes the governorship Kate Brown will become the nation’s third female Democratic Governor, matching the three female Republican Governors currently in office. Also, it has been widely reported that while she is married to a man, she is also openly bisexual. As Secretary of State, she has been recognized as the first openly bisexual statewide elected official in the country, so she will become the first openly bisexual Governor when she assumes office.
On her Secretary of State website, Brown cites three successes while serving in the Legislature: 1) the creation of a searchable online database for campaign contributions and expenditures, 2) initiative process reform, and 3) the passage of comprehensive civil rights and domestic partnership laws.
It isn’t surprising, given her current role, that voter registration and campaign funding are issues of concern to Secretary Brown. Just last week, she proposed a state constitutional amendment and legislation to put limits on campaign dollars candidates can raise. Oregon is one of a few states that do not currently restrict the source or amount of funds candidates can raise for their campaigns.
She currently serves as President of the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS), and she was actually attending an NASS meeting in Washington, D.C. when she said Governor Kitzhaber asked her to return to Oregon early to discuss his resignation. Her key accomplishments in the Secretary of State’s office as she describes them on her website are:
- Removing barriers to voter registration and voting
- Removing red tape for businesses and entrepreneurs
- Focusing audits on improving education and providing better services for the most vulnerable Oregonians
She is continuing to work on these issues. For example, she pre-filed legislation, HB 2170, that would automatically register anyone who gets a driver’s license unless they opt out of voter registration.
So how will she govern? A Politico article quotes a Republican pollster as saying she is a more “hardcore partisan” than was Kitzhaber. This is consistent with other comments in the Politico article that state that “(w)hile Kitzhaber pursued education and pension reforms that rankled labor interests, Brown is a favorite among public-sector unions.” Both the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in Oregon and the Oregon AFL-CIO included strong praise for Kate Brown in the statements about the resignation of Governor Kitzhaber. And labor unions, both public and private, have been strong financial supporters of Kate Brown.
As a result, we may see Governor Brown pushing for the labor agenda that includes minimum wage increases and paid sick leave. This could have significant impacts to industries like retail that hire significant numbers of entry level personnel.
Although Governor Kitzhaber was only reelected last November, Kate Brown will only serve as Governor until 2016 when Oregon’s Constitution requires that a special election will be held to fill the remaining two years of Governor Kitzhaber’s term. Political analysts in Oregon are predicting she will likely have challengers for the Democratic primary, so she is likely to govern from the left to shore up the Democratic vote.