Oregon governor outlines her priorities after 10 months on the job

By Gemma DiCarlo (OPB)
Oct. 17, 2023 9:35 p.m.

Since Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek took office in January, Republican lawmakers staged a historically long walkout, she convened a task force to address serious problems in Portland’s central downtown and a coalition of prominent leaders in the state has begun calling for an overhaul of Measure 110, Oregon’s drug decriminalization law.

A woman and a man sit across a conference table and talk into microphones.

Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek speaks with "Think Out Loud" host Dave Miller in Salem, Oregon, on Monday, Oct. 16, 2023.

Gemma DiCarlo / OPB

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OPB’s “Think Out Loud” traveled to Salem to talk with Gov. Kotek about these issues and more, including her priorities for the 2024 legislative session. Here are excerpts from the conversation, edited for length and clarity.

Is Measure 110 working?

“I don’t think the measure got it right… Measure 110 does need some fixes, and I’ve been really up front about that. I’ve been talking with legislators about the unintended consequence of Measure 110 and what it means for public use of things like fentanyl and meth. We need to fix that.”

“We do not have enough inpatient residential treatment. When someone is ready for recovery and they need a place to go, we don’t have that. That’s a workforce issue, that’s a physical location issue. That’s one of the things I’m particularly focused on, to make sure that people have a place to go when they are ready to recover.”

“I don’t want to just throw an idea out there to say, ‘This is how we’re going to fix it.’ I’m open to conversations. I don’t believe that just completely undoing it is the answer, either. And I think that’s where most Oregonians are — they’re like, ‘Well, we’re not sure we voted for the right thing, but we still think it’s a public health issue, and we need to go after people who are doing illegal things.’ So we’re trying to do a number of things to address it.”

“I will be interested to see what legislators come up with in the upcoming legislative session. I’m always about, ‘Put a solution on the table.’ If you say this is how it’ll make things better, I am open to that. And I’m still waiting for that answer from legislators.”

Is housing production on track to meet demand?

“We are on track to talk about the ideas that will get us there. I’ve got to be honest, I didn’t think that would happen in the first year. (It) might even not happen in the second year, but we can ramp up if we put more resources and tools on the ground to get to that type of construction level.”

“We have a climate crisis that we are addressing, and I think housing production done well — which means different types of housing that can exist within our current land use system — is part of solving for climate change here in Oregon… We can’t have the state we want if people don’t have a place to live. I don’t think it’s an either-or conversation.”

“I think we’re hearing from various quarters that there needs to be an update to how we handle urban growth boundary expansions for the purpose of housing. And there were a lot of good concerns raised during (the last legislative) session that we have taken under advisement… What I have heard is ‘OK, maybe that went too far, but we need something.’ And maybe it has to be more narrowed in certain communities, and maybe we have to do more to assure the affordability of the housing that’s getting built.”

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“I would say to every Oregonian out there who loves their land use system (that) we have to be willing to adapt under the crisis that we are in. And so I hope everyone will look at those things and say, ‘OK, that’s a reasonable thing to do for a limited amount of time to deal with the fact that we have a housing crisis in our state.’”

What will the Portland Central City Task Force achieve?

“We need an action plan by December…that says, ‘We have a six- to nine-month plan that is going to make improvements in this whole host of areas.’ We have to see progress. It’s not OK to just talk about the problem.”

“What Oregonians and Portlanders are going to see is clear statements of, ‘Here’s the problem, here are the action items, here’s who’s going to be in charge and here’s what it might cost to do that.’ That is our framing, whether it’s community safety, or livability, or homelessness, or tax structure or just, what do we want downtown to look like? What’s the future of Portland in the central city core?”

“It’s going to be both private and public partnerships. It’s not just going to be a big ask of money from the state. That’s not the approach we should take. There might be a need for some resources, but what’s the private sector going to do? People volunteering, what do they want to do? This is their city, it’s our city… We all have to be in it together.”

What should state lawmakers focus on when they reconvene in February?

“Housing production has to be the number one priority for the session… I’ve let legislators know that I’ll be asking for resources that Oregonians need.”

“I’m doing everything I can to make sure (another walkout) doesn’t happen. I’ve been very clear with legislative leaders — we have to have more open dialogue now about how we want the session to go and how we can work together on the top issues facing the state. What’s good about housing production? It is a bipartisan priority. I’m trying to keep people focused on bipartisan priorities so we can have a successful legislative session.”

“I would say that Oregonians need the Legislature to deliver on the top priorities of the state, which is housing, behavioral health and funding core services. This is not a time to have a partisan fight over things that, frankly, they dealt with during the long session.

This is a short session to be focused on the priorities of the state.”

“Nothing in the law at the end of the day will be foolproof for keeping us from walkouts. This is about the relationships you build, how you treat each other, how you treat folks who aren’t in the majority. I think we have work to do there.”

“If Oregonians believe we need a stronger set of tools around quorum, then I would be supportive of that… I think we also haven’t seen the true consequences of what voters passed. People are going to lose their jobs, I think, at the end of the day, because that’s what voters asked for. I think people are going to think twice the next time they do it.”

You can listen to the whole conversation with Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek here:

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