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Q&A: How Was Kate Brown's First Year As Oregon Governor

Gov. Kate Brown talks with members of the media to preview legislation for the upcoming session at the Capitol Building, in Salem, Ore., on Tuesday, Jan. 26.

Gov. Kate Brown talks with members of the media to preview legislation for the upcoming session at the Capitol Building, in Salem, Ore., on Tuesday, Jan. 26.

Timothy J. Gonzalez/AP

One year ago today, Oregon got a new Governor.  

“I, Kate Brown, do solemnly swear that I will support the Constitution of the United States…”  

Kate Brown rose to the position after Governor John Kitzhaber stepped down in the face of a growing influence peddling scandal.  

OPB’s Capitol Reporter Chris Lehman has covered Gov. Brown’s first year on the job, and spoke with Morning Edition host Geoff Norcross about her first year in office.

Q&A with Reporter Chris Lehman

Geoff Norcross: For starters, what’s happening with former Governor Kitzhaber? Has anything come from the investigations into his conduct?

Chris Lehman: Publicly, nothing has come yet. He has not been charged with anything at this point. Those investigations are still ongoing, specifically the federal investigation. There’s the potential for a state investigation to commence once the feds are done with their work. But as of this point, he’s simply been a retired governor for one year, and nothing more, nothing less.

GN: Okay, well more to come on that, I’m sure. But when you look back on Kate Brown’s first year, what jumps out at you? 

CL: Well, certainly having to become governor with relatively little advance notice is a challenge, and the governor jumped into that challenge head first. And, of course, Kate Brown had been involved in Salem politics for a number of decades already so she wasn’t a newcomer to the state capitol. This Legislative session that’s going on right now is kind of her first chance to put her own imprint on things from the get-go. 

GN: Well, how’s it going? What did she want out of the session, and is she getting it?

CL: Probably what she’s invested most of her political capital in is a minimum wage increase. Of course, the jury is still out on that. The bill at this point has not passed through both chambers of the Legislature, and could even still be amended at this point.

GN: Gov. Brown has had to deal with two major events in the past year. There’s the Roseburg shooting, and then the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation. What strikes you about how she handled those incidents?  

CL: Those were both incidents that gave the governor, not that she was looking for this, but it gave her the chance to act “gubernatorially,” I guess you might say. She could come out and make public statements, take part publicly in the grieving process in Roseburg, take part in the asking-the-occupiers-to-leave process. I don’t think there’s a lot of criticism in terms of how she handled the Roseburg and the Malheur situation, generally speaking. Malheur was obviously an unprecedented thing, and the Roseburg shooting was a tragedy. And the governor stepped up and played the role of governor in those cases.

GN: And then there’s the campaign. She’s actually going to have to campaign for her job this year. What kind of campaign are you expecting?

CL: Well, the governor is in a bit of a tricky situation, because on the one hand, she wants to say in the campaign, “Well, I’m already the governor. I’m here. I’m doing the job.” And she has the political experience that, generally speaking, her opponents will not have.  That being said, she’s also differentiating herself from John Kitzhaber, because certainly everybody will remember that Kate Brown became governor in the wake of that political scandal. So, it’s not clear kind of how successful she’s been at differentiating herself from her predecessor, both Democrats.   That being said, the Republicans at this point have not entered any candidates in the race with a lot of political experience or name recognition in the state. So you have to think the advantage going into this belongs to Kate Brown. But again, it’s a long ways between now and November.

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