How Kendall Clawson Doubled the Number of Women Running Oregon

The Office of the Governor's Deputy Chief of Staff has fought for the LGBTQ community, supported people diagnosed with AIDS, and radically changed the face of the state's policy boards. And she's not done yet.

By Rachel Ritchie March 2, 2015 Published in the March 2015 issue of Portland Monthly

Kendall Clawson, 50 // Deputy Chief of Staff, Office of the Governor

In her triad of responsibilities for the governor’s office, Kendall Clawson ultimately oversees more than 2,500 people. “I’m just really good at bringing people together,” she says. It’s an understatement.

Clawson intended to go to law school, but life intervened during college when a friend and mentor was diagnosed with AIDS. “I was living in a little bubble in Santa Cruz, and this disease just came crashing into my world,” she says. She moved to San Francisco in 1989 and took a position with the Black Coalition on AIDS. From there, a career shaped by social justice led her to Hawaii, Massachusetts, and, ultimately, Oregon.

In 2007, Clawson was hired as the executive director of the Q Center, an organization founded in 2005 to support Portland’s LGBTQ community. Over four years, she nearly tripled the annual budget and raised $400,000 for a new headquarters. “I discovered something really special about Portland,” she says. “If you ask people to come, they’ll show up.”

In 2011, Gov. John Kitzhaber tapped Clawson to run his executive appointments office. Kitzhaber charged her with diversifying the 312 boards and commissions that steer state policy, which at the time were composed of 6 percent people of color and 17 percent women. Clawson remembers it clearly: “I said, ‘If you don’t feel prepared to do battle on my behalf, please don’t pick me. But if you want somebody who will chase this down like a dog, I will do everything I can to make this happen.’” After four years on the job, those numbers have climbed to 25 percent and 48 percent, respectively.

In September 2014, Clawson’s role expanded to deputy chief of staff. “I thought I was busy before,” she says. “I didn’t know anything.”

 A Day in the Life: Jan 16, 2015 

8:30–9 A.M.
Daily executive team meeting
9:30–9:45 A.M.
Planning call regarding meeting with the governor
9:45–10 A.M.
10–11 A.M.
Meeting with research and data analyst regarding equity data tracking
11:15–11:25 A.M.
Conference call regarding Oregon Cultural Trust and Arts Commission
11:30 A.M. –1 P.M.
Women’s Leadership Panel and luncheon with Jefferson High School and Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center students
1–1:20 P.M.
1:30–2:15 P.M.
Latino Network panel with [email protected] on the growing Latino electorate
2:15–2:30 P.M.
2:30–3:45 P.M.
Meeting with the governor and African American leaders regarding the budget
5–5:30 P.M.
Travel 6–8 p.m.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gospel celebration at Temple Beth Israel
8–9 P.M.
Temple Beth Israel reception for civil rights activist Myrlie Evers-Williams

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