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Meet Kate Brown, Our New Governor

Monday, February 16, 2015


Secretary of State Kate Brown kayaks. Photo: Facebook/Kate Brown

Following a dramatic week in Oregon politics, the sometimes controversial, always political Secretary of State Kate Brown will be sworn in as the state’s next governor. 

As the national media spent the weekend pondering the first bisexual governor in America, Brown began setting her agenda for the next two years. 

The announcement of John Kitzhaber’s unprecedented resignation Friday gave Brown, 54, exactly five days to ready herself for the governor’s office, a post insiders say she has had her eye on for years. Statements endorsing Brown poured out of state and civic offices Friday afternoon. 

"As you can imagine, there is a lot of work to be done between now and Wednesday," Brown told a media swarm Friday. Saturday, flanked by Oregon State Police troopers to cut Oregon’s 156th birthday cake, Brown spoke only of the celebration at hand. 

Although well-liked and respected by most House and Senate colleagues on both sides of the aisle, Brown is not without opponents in her own party. To supporters, she is competent, experienced and qualified to lead. Critics call Brown ambitious to a fault, and too compelled by special interest groups -- historically unions, but more recently, Comcast.  


“I think she is very beholden to the special interest dollar to the detriment of Oregon citizens,” said former Democratic Senator Charlie Ringo, now an attorney in Bend, Ore.  

Brown, who as a Senator was heavily funded by labor unions, voted against a 2003 measure to reform the Public Employees Retirement System, the same measure she pushed her senate Democrat colleagues to advance. The vote passed, while Brown kept her union support. 

In Jan. 2015, Brown sent a personal letter to the Federal Communication Commission -- that the Verge revealed had been largely ghost-written by a Comcast lobbyist -- endorsing a merger between the telecommunications giant and Time Warner Cable. Over the course of Brown’s two secretary of state campaigns, she received roughly $10,000 from Comcast.  

A 2012 election scheduling snafu for the race of labor commissioner raised eyebrows when Brown, Oregon’s top elections official, moved the measure, originally intended for the May ballot, to November. Republican candidate Bruce Starr sought a restraining order that would have forced Brown to hold the vote in May, alleging the date-change reduced his chances of beating Democratic candidate Brad Avakian. The restraining order was rejected, and Avakian ultimately won. 

25 years in Oregon politics 

Sometimes, a little bit of her Minnesota upbringing slips out when she talks, Brown’s long-time friend and senate colleague Randy Leonard, most recently a Portland City Commissioner, said. 

Portland singer Storm Large kisses Kate Brown on stage at Basic Rights Oregon gala. Photo: Byron Beck

Brown first entered Oregon politics by replacing House Rep. Judy Shiprack in 1990, who left the post for another position that ultimately fell through. In 1992, she campaigned aggressively and beat Shiprack -- who by then wanted her old seat back -- in an upset victory of just seven votes. 

In 1996, Brown was elected to the Senate, and by 2004 became Senate Majority Leader. In 2009, she was sworn in as secretary of state. 

Former Republican Senate leader Roger Beyer worked alongside Brown during the longest legislative session in state history, in 2003. During the 72nd legislative session, the Senate was split 15-15, Democrats to Republicans. 

“Senator Brown and I, we had our differences, but we worked together,” Beyer said. “Kate’s intelligent, she’s a good politician, but the people of Oregon did not choose her,” he said.  

Kitzhaber statement

Leonard said he is disappointed in his colleague and friend for the statement she released Thursday, Feb. 11 regarding her snap meeting with Kitzhaber the day before. 

Brown was called back from a national conference of Secretaries of State in Washington, D.C. at the governor’s behest, triggering rumors of an imminent resignation. When Brown returned to Oregon Feb. 10 and met with Kitzhaber, he asked why she had come back. 

Brown’s statement characterized the encounter as “bizarre,” “strange” and “unprecedented.”

“I wish of all the things that have happened recently, I wish Kate would have stood by him,” said Leonard. “I’m disappointed she characterized the meeting in any way, when I felt like the inevitable was going to happen.”

In 2009, when then Portland Mayor Sam Adams considered resigning over an affair he had with a teen city hall intern in 2005, Leonard was next in line for the Mayor’s office.  

“I was angry with Sam, but I said nothing to media,” said Leonard. “It could have appeared to look like I wanted the job,” Leonard said.  

Work goes on in Salem

House Rep. Julie Parrish (R- Tualatin/West Linn) said since the legislative session began Feb. 2, lawmakers “burned a few weeks dealing with the drama.” 

Parrish said the pace of bills moving through the house and senate in the first ten days of session reflected a sense among legislators that Kitzhaber’s resignation was on the horizon.
“The pace of the calendar on the bigger bills was ‘lets move a bunch of stuff through the hopper,’” Parrish said. 

Photo: Kate Brown with Peter Johnson (left) and George Vranas (right).

The West Linn Rep., along with fellow Republican officials, expressed concern over bills supported by Kitzhaber, and his controversial fiancee Cylvia Hayes, particularly environmental initiatives. Parrish said she hopes Brown will be a calming presence in the Capitol. But, that could change if Brown wants to serve another term. 

“There’s no playbook. The way our constitution is set up, if she wants to run in 2016, she has to start immediately campaigning,” Parrish said. “She’s got a lot of money to raise.” 

Meanwhile, Senator Floyd Prozanski (D-South Lane and North Douglas), said the work has not and will not stop despite the ever-distracting transition of power at hand. 

“We will do our work,” he said. “There’s been no change in our committee assignments.” 

In the public eye 

Brown’s former colleagues say the incoming governor is as ready as she can be for the public scrutiny that will follow Kitzhaber, who leaves office in a cloud of ethical and legal doubt. 

“Kate’s been in politics for a long time, so I don’t think the magnifying glass will be anything unusual for her,” said former state senator Vicki Walker.  Brown came out publicly as bisexual in 1992 in Out and Elected in the USA. 

Parrish, who is leading a transparency package, is calling for Brown’s administration to be open with the public. 

In addition to who she will appoint as Oregon’s next Secretary of State, questions about which policy direction Brown’s administration will take are getting louder -- questions she has pointedly not addressed in the two media appearances made since Kitzhaber announced his resignation. 

“Most governors have a couple of months to think about it after they’re elected,” said Walker. “Kate’s going to have a weekend.”

As the outgoing Secretary of State, Brown can choose any Oregon resident who is a registered Democrat, elected or unelected, to replace her. 


Related Slideshow: Timeline of Kate Brown’s Life and Political Career

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Brown was born on June 21, 1960 in Torrejón de Ardoz, Spain where her father was serving in the U.S. Air Force, but she grew up mostly in Minnesota. 

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Brown graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder with a B.A. in Environmental Conservation. She then went on to earn a degree in environmental law from the Northwestern School of Law at Lewis and Clark College. 

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Law Career

Before Brown began her legislative career, she worked at Portland State University and worked as an attorney with the Juvenile Rights Project, a non profit in Portland that provides legal services to children and families. 

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House of Reps

Brown began her legislative career in 1991 in the Oregon House of Representatives where she served two terms. 

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Kate Brown was elected to the Oregon Senate in 1996 and two years later was elected Senate Democratic Leader. 

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Senate Majority Leader

In 2004 Kate Brown became the first woman to serve as Oregon's Senate Majority Leader. Brown served until July 2007 when she announced that she would give up her seat in the Oregon Senate to run for Secretary of State. 

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Secretary of State.

On May 20, 2008, Brown won the election for the Democratic nomination for Secretary of State and on November 5 she won the general election by a 51-46 percent margin against Republican candidate Rick Dancer.

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Rising Star

In 2009 the Aspen Institute named Brown as one of 24 "Rising Stars" in American politics and awarded her with a Rodel Fellowship

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Personal Life

Brown lives in Portland with her husband Dan Little who she has been married to for almost 20 years and is also a stepmother to  two children. She identifies as bisexual and was America's first openly bisexual statewide officeholder. 

Photo: Brown kissing Storm Large at Basic Rights Oregon's 27th annual Dinner Auction in 2009. Photo by Byron Beck.

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Cut D.C. Trip Short

On Wednesday, Feb. 11 2015 Brown left is the national conference for the Association of Secretaries of State in Washington D.C. two days early.

The 2015 Winter Conference runs from February 10-13, 2015, and draws top state officials from around the country.

Brown's spokesperson, Tony Green, confirmed she is on her way back to Oregon, and that her return is ahead of schedule. 

According to multiple sources at the highest level of State Government, her return is tied to a potential resignation by the embattled Governor John Kitzhaber.

Photo: Kate Brown with Peter Johnson (left) and George Vranas (right).

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Governor of Oregon

Governor John Kitzhaber released a statement Friday, Feb. 13 announcing his resignation.

Kate Brown will now serve as the Governor until the next general biennial election. A new governor can be elected in 2016. 

Kate Brown will be the second female Governor of Oregon. 

Photo Credit: Kate Brown with Dianne Lin by Byron Beck


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