Former Oregon Secretary of State and Portland Democrat Kate Brown has been in Mahonia Hall since she took over from John Kitzhaber in early 2015. A reelection in November would give Brown her first full term.
What does this race mean for Oregonians? From my perspective, it means the ability to reelect the governor with a proven track record of tackling issues via the Oregon Way—a consensus collaborative approach. It means reelecting a governor that is willing to lead on innovative and creative public policy. It means reelecting a governor that has stood up to the Trump administration when the administration stomps on Oregonians or Oregon values.
What accomplishments would you point to so far? Two areas: the transportation package that we passed in 2017 is the [state’s] most comprehensive [ever], funding public transit statewide, creating rebates for low- and moderate-income families, investing $10 million a year and [creating] safe routes to school. It will also create over 16,000 jobs. And the Oregon Health Plan,* which will continue funding health care for over 430,000 Oregonians around the state from Burns to Astoria. We know that having access to preventative health care enables Oregonians to lead productive and healthy lives.
Your opponent is positioning himself as a more “liberal” Republican. Well, I have to say this: it feels like I’m running against two opponents, the elected version of Knute Buehler and candidate Knute Buehler. Candidate Buehler is saying he’s very moderate, he’s pro-choice, he’s pro-environment, he’s pro-consensus-collaboration. But Representative Knute Buehler’s track record is the absolute opposite of that. When he had an opportunity to stand up and ensure that women across the state would have access to choice, he voted “no.” When he had an opportunity to stand up for the environment, he voted “no.” The League of Conservation Voters gave him an F rating. Not a C, not a D, but an F. [Environmentalist and Republican governor] Tom McCall is rolling in his grave.
Can we talk about your housing plan? It’s really simple. For me, the best thing we can do is build as many affordable units as possible as quickly as we can. There are roughly 23,000 kids in Oregon public schools that are in some form of homelessness. We need to find stable, affordable, safe, and secure housing for these families. And the only way you can do that is to build more. And that’s exactly what we’re doing. This year we passed legislation to encourage folks in the construction trades to move to (or back to) rural Oregon. A proportion of their workload is in affordable housing.
If you could wave a magic wand over Oregon right now, what would you do? I would love it if we could fix what I call the “skills gap” between the workforce that we have and the workforce that we need to fuel the economy of Oregon’s future. Everybody is flummoxed by this. We’re working hard to build an educational pipeline for folks who are displaced or underemployed, but this is going to take time and energy. Honestly, employers across the state need these people now.
Opposing Brown is Republican Knute Buehler, an orthopedic surgeon from Bend. A four-year veteran of the Oregon House, Buehler would be the first Republican in the office since Vic Atiyeh wrapped up his second term in 1987.
How do you set yourself apart? I’m running for a really simple reason: to fix the big problems in Oregon that have been avoided, ignored, and, quite frankly, made worse by Governor Brown. Specifically, with regards to education, homelessness, and mental health care, the state needs leadership from a governor—leadership, that is a lot more independent and less partisan and more interested in innovative ideas than a particular ideology.
You claim to have liberal views on key issues.... Well, I’m certainly a different sort of Republican. I reject a lot of those narrow labels that I think increasingly divide us and don’t define many of us anymore. They certainly don’t define me. I have been very outspoken about my pro-choice stance.** I wrote the bill that makes birth control over the counter in Oregon now. I’ve taken controversial votes in support of the environment. A couple of years ago, I voted to close the boyfriend loophole [a modest gun control measure]. I don’t think those issues are necessarily Republican or Democratic.
What’s your homelessness plan for Oregon? It’s a humanitarian crisis. It’s a public health crisis and—crucially—a public safety crisis. There’s an estimated 14,000 people in Oregon that are homeless. This is an issue that now demands a bolder and more creative leadership from the governor. It can’t be left to just local governments or nonprofit agencies alone to solve.
Where do you see the most pressing need? The most pressing need is to get people off of the streets. A tent or a sidewalk should never ever again be someone’s home in Oregon, and that means that we have to create emergency temporary shelters. Then we can start working on the underlying causes that’s driven people to homelessness. There are cities in Oregon that are addressing this issue. The ones that do it well combine compassion with tough love. The shelters should be just a path, not a final destination for people. If you’re able—and don’t have a serious mental or physical disability—you need to work or volunteer, or help out around the shelter. You need to stop using drugs or alcohol and your goal needs to be to move into independence.
If you could wave a magic wand over Oregon, what would you do on your first day if you were elected? The very first thing is naming a chief homelessness solutions officer to implement my plan, and hold one person accountable for making it work. One of the challenges I see is that there’s lots of effort, a lot of unfortunately uncoordinated effort. There needs to be a quarterback who can align all these interests. That would be the morning of my first day. In the afternoon, I’d start on a significant reorganization and new leadership of the education department.
*Its expansion, not its creation; the Oregon Health Plan has operated since 1994.
**Pro-choice groups such as NARAL and Planned Parenthood PAC of Oregon have stated that Buehler’s record, including a “no” vote on 2017’s Reproductive Health Equity Act, makes this claim dubious.