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Who’s Hot and Who’s Not in Oregon Politics: Kate Brown, Lars Larson, Clean Fuels

Friday, February 20, 2015


Kate Brown was sworn in as the Governor of Oregon, Wednesday, Feb. 18.

Every Friday, GoLocalPDX breaks down who's rising and who's falling in the world of Oregon politics. Check out who made the lists this week.


Oregon Governor Kate Brown

Women in politics, regardless of party affiliation, got a boost this week when Kate Brown became Oregon’s Governor, becoming only the second woman Governor in Oregon’s history and the Nation’s 37th. Governor Brown kicked it off right, sounding determined and poised in her inaugural address. She delivered a great speech that avoided any celebratory nature, which was wise given the circumstances which she ascended to the office. She also outlined immediate steps to restore faith in the office. The only other woman to serve as Governor in Oregon, Barbara Roberts, was on hand to celebrate no longer being a caucus of one. 

Sheila Hamilton

The final revelation before Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber’s decision to resign was his office’s request to destroy emails. The order to destroy the emails was exposed by a handful of media outlets, including KINK FM’s Sheila Hamilton. Hamilton, the long-time host of the station’s morning show is more often known to talk about pop culture but has a notable left leaning political streak. This Saturday, Hamilton appeared on KGW’s Straight Talk alongside Willamette Week reporter Nigel Jaquiss, who broke the story that started the Governor’s fall from grace. The emails saved from the electronic dumping grounds ultimately showed breathtaking insight on how now-former First Lady Cylvia Hayes planned to further leverage her title and relationship status to earn income.

State Representative Julie Parrish

State Representative Julie Parrish (R-West Linn) has never been afraid of stirring the pot and she has comparable media skills to those of Portland City Commissioner Steve Novick. They both know how to seize a moment, a great skill too often lacking in our elected officials. In the wake of a scandal that seemed to cripple Salem, Representative Parrish was busy drafting measures to counter the problems that were taking place from recurring in the future. This week she introduced measures that deal with ethics, the role of the governor’s spouse, and transparency in Oregon’s campaign, and to strengthen Oregon’s public records laws. As one of the legislatures few moderates, her ideas are likely to gain some traction.

Would be Secretaries of State

The hint of a gubernatorial resignation set off wild speculation about who would be the next Secretary of State in Oregon. While initial speculation on who might step into the position of Secretary of State centered on lesser known candidates, attention quickly shifted to three establishment names:  Senate Majority Leader Diane Rosenbaum (a post each of the past two Secretaries of State have held), House Speaker Tina Kotek, and House Majority Leader Val Hoyle.  Kotek quickly shot the notion down, Rosenbaum acknowledged interest but Hoyle has remained publicly mum.

Capitol insiders say that Hoyle wants it badly and may find support from fellow Democrats who see an opportunity for themselves to move up the leadership ladder if she takes on a new role. Other insiders are grumbling that it is virtually certain Governor Brown will appoint a legislator, leaving a district without representation for weeks during a legislative session. Any appointee to fill a legislative vacancy will have a steep learning curve.

Kristin Grainger

Tan, rested and ready? Once a prominent lobbyist, Kristin Grainger shifted her focus over a decade ago when she joined the leadership team at Willamette University, just a couple hundred feet south of Oregon’s Capitol.  Many Capitol insiders do anything they can to keep a grasp on their clout (see Marks, Steve, below). Not Grainger. She seemed content with a life in academia moonlighting as a folk singer. Many would argue someone with that level of political savvy without the typical ambition makes Grainger Governor Brown’s strongest hire to date. She was named Communications Director this week. Also a bonus: if the state revives Cover Oregon, we won’t have to contract out for a folk singer for the commercials this time.


Lars Larson

Lars Larson, a longstanding right wing entertainment personality seemed intent on ensuring that he was on hand to help shovel dirt onto Governor Kitzhaber’s political grave this week. Larson did his show live from Salem on Tuesday. Oddly, he located himself near the hearing rooms in lieu of the rotunda or a variety of other places where he could air the show without further disrupting the legislature from doing its business. The space near the hearing rooms is scarce and lawmakers and staff are often actually trying to conduct business there.

Additionally, While Lars took a lot of calls, those could not be heard by the few who happened to be in earshot. Onlookers, few as they were, could only hear him blurting out responses to the callers. Said one Capitol insider “no one was nearby him. It was embarrassing that he didn’t know how bad it was.”  Of course it has long been said it is embarrassing that he still thinks he is in the news business.

The Good Ole Boys

Steve Marks is the current head of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. With a DUII on his record, the extent of knowledge of the agency’s work prior to taking the helm seemed to be from the other side of the bar. Marks is a long-time confidante of now-former Governor John Kitzhaber. He served on his staff prior to and during his first two terms in office. In the 8 years between terms two and three, Marks ran for office himself, parlayed lobbying contracts and otherwise worked to keep himself relevant in Oregon politics. When Kitzhaber returned, so did Mark’s sway. Marks is emblematic of the old boy’s network that Kitzhaber fostered, many of whom never bothered to endear themselves to Governor Kate Brown. Don’t be surprised when the good ole boys start a quiet exit.

South Eugene High School

Willamette Week’s Nigel Jaquiss found an interesting comparison on the three highest profile elected officials he’s taken on as a journalist. On last week’s Straight Talk, he was asked about connections between former Oregon Governors Neil Goldschmidt and John Kitzhaber as well as former Portland Mayor Sam Adams. The three have all been subjects of intensive research by Jaquiss, ultimately ending each’s political career.  The obvious answer is that they are all Democrats. When asked by the host of the show, Jaquiss noted, interestingly enough, they were all South Eugene High School graduates. While one South Eugene alumnus remains in office, State Representative Phil Barnhart, it seems unlikely he will fall prey to the Jaquiss curse.

Clean Fuels

Senate Bill 324 cleared the Oregon Senate on Tuesday on almost party line vote. The bill would extend Oregon’s low carbon fuel standard. While environmentalists should be cheering its passage, they find themselves on the defensive. While the merits of the policy have been debated, the conversation has shifted to whether First Lady Cylvia’s fingerprints on the measure will tank it. On Wednesday, emails showing her master plan to gain wealth off promoting measures such as this surfaced, reportedly leaving some Senate Democrats with buyer’s remorse.


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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