Gov. Kate Brown delivered her final State of the State address Thursday, acknowledging the turmoil the state has faced under her tenure — from the global pandemic, to unprecedented wildfires, historic floods and ice storms, as well as deep political divisions.
But she quickly took an optimistic turn, noting Oregon’s economy is strong, unemployment is low and her leadership style — as a collaborator — has resulted in tangible wins for the state.
“Over and over, I’ve seen the power of collaboration and innovation during my time as governor,” Brown said.
One example she cited: a historic deal recently struck between environmental groups and Oregon’s timber industry.
“These two groups could not be more opposed. For 50 years, they have been challenging one another with ballot initiatives and fights in the Legislature. The ‘Timber Wars’ of Oregon are not an urban legend; they were real,” the governor said.
The two groups are now closer to updating the Forest Practices Act with the understanding they would avoid an epic and expensive battle over Oregon’s forests.
The governor’s other high points:
- Graduation rates have increased for kids by 8% since she took office, and there has been a record investment in schools
- The number of children in foster care has decreased by 11% to about 5,000 kids, the lowest number in 16 years
- The state’s largest transportation package was passed
- The state passed a comprehensive reproductive health package
And while COVID-19 has hit every state hard, Oregon is the third in the nation for lowest cumulative case counts, the governor said. The governor has come under fire for having some of the strictest COVID-19 restrictions.
This legislative session, the governor plans to push for a $200 million package to bolster the state’s workforce, particularly in health care, tech and manufacturing and construction.
“We must do more than give people particular job skills … We need to help Oregonians create a career ladder. We need to take an entry-level job, like a certified nursing assistant, and provide the skills to advance to careers in paramedicine, nursing or health care administration. That’s turning a job into a career,” she said.
The investment will be targeted at those who have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic.
“The families who have faced discrimination and barriers to economic opportunity for generations simply due to who they are, where they live or the color of their skin,” she said.
The governor noted that to get people back to work, they need stable housing and child care.
She is also pushing for a $400 million investment in affordable housing and $100 million investment in child care.
“Child care is a basic necessity; it is just as critical to our economic recovery as infrastructure,” Brown said. “For working parents, child care is infrastructure.”
The governor spoke of the skyrocketing prices of homes in Portland and the housing crisis that is evident across the state from Coos Bay to Ontario. She spoke of the million-dollar condos being built on the same city blocks where people are sleeping in tents, huddling over fires to stay warm. There are more than 15,000 Oregonians who are believed not to have homes.
With the state’s budget doing well, it’s a chance to address the entrenched issue that has been decades in the making, she said.
“There’s an old saying in politics: Don’t tell me what your values are. Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what your values are.”
But, Brown said, it’s not just about investing resources.
“It’s about fixing a system that has been rigged against working families, particularly families of color. We must keep our eyes fixed on the deep racial disparities in housing stability and homeownership cause by decades, centuries of racism in housing policies in this country.”
Finally, the governor addressed climate change.
“Every year I have been governor, we have seen more extreme weather than the last. We have experienced unprecedented devastation, from historic drought to expansive flooding to a deadly heat dome and massive power outages from winter storms,” Brown said, adding Oregon needs to transition to low carbon energy sources.
Former House Republican Leader Christine Drazan, who is now running for governor, offered a contrasting viewpoint on Brown’s time in office.
“Brown’s failed policies have left Oregonians paying billions more in taxes, undermined public safety, and cheapened the value of an Oregon diploma,” Drazan said in a written statement. “Her top-down approach to responding to the pandemic has been a disaster for Oregon families and employers, yet she continues to double down. ... Oregonians desperately need new leadership.”
And Senate Republican Leader Tim Knopp, R-Bend, noted the governor’s speech didn’t speak to public safety issues.
“Crime is at record levels here in Oregon, but you wouldn’t know that by listening to the Governor’s speech,” Knopp said in a statement. “People don’t feel safe and Republicans share their frustration and anger. The lack of urgency Democrats have brought to this crisis is shocking. The Governor’s workforce package won’t do anything for our economy if people don’t feel safe to work or do business here.”
Brown has been a fixture in the state Legislature since the 1990s. This is expected to be her final legislative session because she cannot run for governor again due to term limits.
“As I enter my last year as governor, I still have moments where it feels surreal to have sat in this office and guided our state through a global pandemic,” Brown said. “While COVID-19 may have defined these times, it doesn’t need to define our lives.”