Lawmakers in Salem are focused on Wednesday when Oregon’s Secretary of State Kate Brown will be sworn in as the state’s 38th governor.
Brown is set to take over after Gov. John Kitzhaber announced his resignation last week amid an ethics scandal.
At this point there are more unknowns than knowns about what happens to Kitzhaber’s political agenda as well as the kind of governor that Brown will be.
It was a little over one month ago,when Kitzhaber was sworn into office for his fourth term.
In his inaugural speech Kitzhaber didn’t lay out specific policy actions, but rather set the tone for the upcoming session.
He described his hope for unifying the state by referring to teamwork of the Oregon Ducks, who were about to play in college football’s national championship.
“Sometime I wonder what it would take to unify Team Oregon around the same kind of common purpose: to deal with childhood hunger, or education, or creating jobs in rural Oregon,” Kitzhaber said on that day January.
On Friday, Kitzhaber announced he would resign; raising questions about what will happen to those causes he’s advocated – especially with the legislative session now underway.
Jim Moore, who teaches political science at Pacific University, said it would be unusual to see Brown a starkly different agenda from Kitzhaber’s before 2016, when her term expires.
“There’s a tradition in the United States – we haven’t seen it in Oregon – that you carry out the policies of the person who left. We saw this after Johnson became president after Kennedy was assassinated for instance,” Moore said.
Even though Kitzhaber and Brown are both Democrats, there are difference between the two. For example, Moore said Kitzhaber is more of a centrist – something that was on display when he worked with Republicans to reform the Public Employees Retirement System.
“Kate Brown is seen as much more of a classic Democrat,” he said. “She’s seen as further to the left. So she does not tend to cross the public employee unions. (She’s) big on environmental things. (She’s) not known for compromising with Republicans during her time in the Legislature. She had to do some of it, but not known for it.”
With the Legislature already in session, state lawmakers said they expect Brown to largely push the same Democratic agenda pursued by Kitzhaber – following a similar policy approach when it comes to education, workforce development and supporting the economy in rural parts of the state.
House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, said she doesn’t think Brown has had time to plan for a different course for the legislative session.
“Certainly this isn’t something she anticipated so there might be some priorities that she has,” she said. “Certainly the elections work is her priority right now, but she might have some other things that come to her attention.”
Kotek said it’s likely Brown will focus on big topics during her first session as governor.
“My guess would be she’s very interested in focusing on the budget and some of the broader issues just like any new governor would be, but I don’t anticipated a lot of changes there, if any,” she said.
So far, Brown’s only appearance came over the weekend at the Oregon Historical Society in Portland, where she joined two former governors to celebrate the state’s birthday.
She offered very little in the way of specific and only spoke for about a minute.
“Our task, our challenge is to make sure that we keep Oregon the very special place that it is,” Brown said. “I look forward to working with you to make sure that that happens.”
Once she takes her oath of office, Brown will no doubt have more to say about the kind of governor she intends to be.