By Shaley Howard, PQ Monthly
With the resignation of John Kitzhaber in February 2015, then Secretary of State Kate Brown under Oregon’s constitution automatically succeeded him as Governor of Oregon. If elected this Fall, she will be the first openly LGBTQ elected governor in the entire nation. While in office for the last 18 months Governor Brown has made huge strides in improving a multitude of issues in Oregon. Some of her accomplishments include: Making community college more affordable, increasing Oregon’s minimum wage; creating the nation’s first “motor voter” program making voter registration easy by automatically registering voters at the DMV. Making access to birth control easier in Oregon; banning gay conversion therapy; ending profiling in Oregon law enforcement, and passing a law expanding background checks for gun ownership in Oregon to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people. PQ Monthly had a chance to speak with Governor Brown recently about her election campaign and other important issues.
PQ: Why should the LGBTQ community elect you as their governor?
Brown: I’m working to cultivate a culture of inclusion and building an Oregon where each person can thrive. We are living in divisive times, and it should be our practice as government, as policymakers, and as community members to celebrate people’s diversity, not shun it.
It is an important part of my history, both personally and politically, to have been an early and outspoken advocate for equality. I have fought for civil rights for my entire public career – as a State Representative, as a member and a leader in the State Senate. As your Governor I was proud to sign a bill banning conversion therapy, and another that made Oregon the first State in the Nation to help LGBT veterans upgrade their unfair discharges from the military – discharges based on discrimination, not merit.
PQ: Why is it important for people to get out and vote this year in particular?
Brown: I believe your vote is your voice and every vote matters. More voices are heard when more votes are cast. I dare to dream, that one day the American electorate will be comprised of every single eligible voter in the country. I am proud to say that, between our first-in-the-nation automatic voter registration and vote-by-mail, this dream has begun to take shape in Oregon.
At the same time, America is facing some serious challenges. We are a country where many full-time workers are living and raising children in poverty. We are a country where women are earning less than men in the same jobs. We are a country where laws are created to deny certain rights to people because of their gender identity or their race. We are a country starting to think twice about whether it’s safe to gather in public – at school, on a college campus, at our places of worship, in a movie theater or a dance club.
These are complicated problems in times of great uncertainty. But of one thing I am quite certain: Donald Trump is completely uninterested in the real issues Americans face every day.
The skill set that makes for good reality TV does not necessarily translate into the role of Leader of the Free World. We as Americans – Republicans, Democrats, independents – deserve better.
We have a unique opportunity in this election to stand for what’s right and stand against the vision held by the loudest voices in the room.
PQ: You’re a huge advocate for improving our educational system. How would you propose finding a sustainable way of funding education in Oregon?
Brown: Oregon needs stable and adequate revenue for essential services like education and healthcare. For more than 30 years, lawmakers have struggled and failed to address the issues in our tax system, and as a result of their inability to do so, we have shortchanged generations of Oregonians. That’s why I’m supporting Measure 97.
Sustained investment is necessary. Our reliance on income taxes to fund schools and other services means we are whipsawed by the whims of our economy. We can’t prepare our students to be successful in a global economy if we aren’t able to continue to invest in education.
When I talk to business leaders, they want an educated and skilled workforce. With stable and adequate revenue we can sustain investments in early childhood education, increase the graduation rate, and give more kids the hands-on experiences and skills that employers want.
PQ: Transgender rights falls under Title IX which seems to continually be evolving. How do you see our government supporting our transgender youth as they navigate any systemic discrimination?
Brown: I am working to ensure all Oregonians are able to live freely and with dignity in our state, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Under my leadership this year, the Oregon Department of Education issued guidance to school districts to create a safe and supportive school environment for every learner, including LGBTQ students. This a positive step forward to making schools a safe place, free from discrimination and harassment, and ensuring every student has equal access to educational programs and activities.
PQ: LGBTQ youth have a nationally higher statistical rate of dropping out of school and a higher rate of bullying. Do you see more accurate ways within your power as Governor to support LGBTQ youth?
Brown: It is my vision that all Oregon students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, have access to a seamless system of education, from cradle to career. A healthy and well-funded education system is key to giving every Oregon child the opportunity to thrive and contribute positively to their communities.
We must shrink the opportunity gap that starts early and makes it harder every year for students to catch up. We’ve started that work with a historic investment in education in 2015, particularly early childhood education, the ELL program, and in applying an equity lenses in policy making. But, there is much more to do.
As mentioned in previous answers, under my leadership this year, the Oregon Department of Education issued guidance to school districts to create a safe and supportive school environment for every learner, including LGBTQ students. This a positive step forward to making schools a safe place, free from discrimination and harassment, and ensuring every student has equal access to educational programs and activities.
I was also proud to sign a bill banning conversion therapy, and another that made Oregon the first State in the Nation to help LGBTQ veterans upgrade their unfair discharges from the military – discharges based on discrimination, not merit.
PQ: How has your gender and/or sexual orientation framed or influenced the public?
Brown: My role as the first LGBTQ governor in the country affords me and our community with a unique opportunity. I learned, as a leader in the State Senate, when I was instrumental in passing both the Oregon Equality Act (banning discrimination in housing and employment based on sexual orientation or gender identification) and the Oregon Family Fairness Act to fully recognize domestic partnerships that our community actually thrives. When we all have a seat at the table. I will continue to use my office to fight against discrimination, and also hope to be a mentor and role model for LGBTQ youth who may be struggling.
PQ: From Oregon’s worst mass shooting to extremists occupying the Malheur Wildlife Refuge to some of the most severe forest fires and droughts in Oregon history, you’ve had quite the year and a half as governor. Yet some opponents continue to say you lack the leadership and strong head needed to govern. As a woman do you still feel you are held to a higher standard?
Brown: I have often been underestimated. But, that hasn’t stopped us from making unprecedented progress in my time in office, despite the many challenges we have faced.
In just the last year and a half we have:
- Led the passage of one of the country’s first Family and Medical Leave laws as a State legislator.
- Wrote Oregon’s Motor Voter Law as Secretary of State, oversaw its passage and signed it into law as Governor.
- Created an online database to make campaign contributions completely transparent and accessible to all Oregonians – the most significant campaign finance reform in our State in a generation.
- Forged a coalition to raise Oregon’s minimum wage so that no one working full time in this State has to live in poverty.
- Signed the law making Oregon the first State in the nation to completely eliminate coal power.
We still have more work to do, and I am looking forward to doing it together with all Oregonians.