Oregon Elects Kate Brown As Governor

By Chris Lehman (OPB)
Salem, Oregon Nov. 9, 2016 3 a.m.

2016 Governor Results by County


Democrats now have a 30-year winning streak when it comes to the Oregon governor's office. Kate Brown held off Republican challenger Bud Pierce Tuesday night.

Brown became governor in February 2015 when fellow Democrat John Kitzhaber resigned during a criminal ethics investigation. Now, she'll serve the remaining two years of the four-year term Kitzhaber won during the 2014 election. Brown was first in line of succession because she was secretary of state. So while she did enjoy some of the advantages of being the incumbent, she was technically not seeking re-election.

Brown celebrated her victory with other Democrats during an election night party at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland.

Brown celebrated her victory with other Democrats during an election night party at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland.

Brown celebrated her victory with other Democrats during an election night party at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland.

Roxy De La Torre / OPB

Brown’s victory makes her the nation’s first elected LGBT governor and Oregon’s second woman elected to the state’s highest office. She recalled in her victory speech how as a young attorney in the 1980s she discovered she was paying less than a male colleague with an identical job and faced the fear of losing her job because she was in a relationship with a woman at the time. She said those experiences put her on the path she would choose in public service.

“I vowed I would do everything in my power to make sure that no one — no one in this state — would have to face that level of fear or face that level of discrimination,” Brown said.


She also vowed to  fight to make sure that “our schools open the doors of opportunity” for all students, and to ensure that Oregon’s economy “grows in every single corner of our state.”

“And I will fight to preserve the beauty and bounty of Oregon for generations to come,” Brown said.

The race between Brown and Pierce was relatively low-key. Neither candidate raised nearly the same amount of money as the campaigns for and against the corporate tax increase known as Measure 97. Pierce and his wife sunk more than $1.5 million of their own money into the race, but the Republican failed to attract much attention from national groups in his first run for public office.

Brown relied on contributions from traditional Democratic supporters, including unions. In September, she received the largest single contribution in her 25-year political career in the form of a $250,000 check from former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who's been shelling out cash to Oregon candidates who support stricter gun laws.

Related: Richardson Wins Oregon Secretary Of State Race, Ending GOP Drought

For Brown, the campaign was a chance to further distinguish herself from her immediate predecessor in office. She served 18 years in the Oregon legislature, and was elected to two terms as Oregon's secretary of state. Brown took over from Kitzhaber in February 2015 on just a few day's notice. It came near the beginning of the 2015 legislative session.

The state's political scene was roiling from Kitzhaber's abrupt departure amid a cloud of scandal. Brown pushed forward with a legislative agenda that included creating an automatic voter registration system, expanding the state's clean fuels mandate, and implementing a broad transportation funding package. While the first two items passed with mainly Democratic support, the transportation package failed to even come to a vote.

As an unelected governor, Brown also was faced with guiding the state through a series of unusual and traumatic events, including a mass shooting at Umpqua Community College that left nine victims dead, a 41-day occupation by an armed group at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, a searing drought that affected nearly the entire state, and a derailment of an oil train in the Columbia Gorge.

For Pierce, the 2016 governor's race wasn't on his agenda. He had been preparing to run for governor in 2018, when Kitzhaber's term was going to be over. Term limits would have kept Kitzhaber from running for re-election, meaning there would not be an incumbent. When Kitzhaber resigned, Pierce decided to throw his hat in the ring. He formally launched his campaign in September 2015. While Pierce had previously served as president of the Oregon Medical Association, he had never set foot in the political arena as a candidate.

He ran on a platform of scaling back state government, and often told voters he would represent a significant change from the three-decade run of Democratic control of the Oregon governor's office. But he also showed some inexperience on the campaign trail. During a debate at the Portland City Club, Pierce drew jeers from the audience when he said that upper income women are "not susceptible" to domestic violence. He later apologized and attempted to clarify his remarks by saying he meant that those women have more resources to escape potentially violent situations. But it took more than a week for his campaign to regain its footing.

Pierce and Brown were joined on the ballot by Cliff Thomason of the Independent Party, James Foster of the Libertarian Party, and Aaron Donald Auer of the Constitution Party.