By John Celock
Pledging to implement new ethics laws, Kate Brown was sworn-in as Oregon’s 38th governor Wednesday, succeeding scandal-tarred fellow Democrat John Kitzhaber in office.
Brown was sworn-in Wednesday morning during a brief ceremony in Oregon’s House chamber. During her speech she talked about moving on from the scandals that forced Kitzhaber from office. Kitzhaber announced his resignation Friday following a series of revelations about his fiancée, Cylvia Hayes, trading government jobs and policy to companies, which paid her as a consultant. As secretary of state, Brown was first in line of succession to the governorship.
“It’s been a tough few months. The people of Oregon have reason to question their trust in state government,” Brown said in a brief inaugural address. “Oregon has been in the national news for all the wrong reasons. That changes today.”
Brown pledged that neither she nor members of her staff or household would accept money from outside sources with dealings before state government during her tenure. She also called on lawmakers to pass legislation to strengthen government ethics laws and to allow for the timely release of public documents. Kitzhaber has been criticized for not releasing documents relating to Hayes’ connection to outside businesses with dealings before the state government.
Brown briefly said that Kitzhaber’s work had touched upon the entire state, but spent most of her speech breaking with her predecessor. Kitzhaber is Oregon’s longest serving governor, taking the oath of office for his fourth term just last month. Kitzhaber served his first two terms from 1995 to 2003, returning to office in 2011. Kitzhaber is only one of a handful of people to be elected to four four-year terms as governor in American history.
“But now we must restore the public’s trust,” Brown said. “I know every representative and every senator in this chamber loves Oregon as much as I do. In order to move us forward we must regain the confidence of the people.”
Brown is a former state representative and state senator who was elected secretary of state in 2008 and 2012. Term limited from the secretary of state’s office in 2016, she was viewed as a likely 2018 gubernatorial candidate when Kitzhaber was due to be term limited from the job. As secretary of state, Brown was Oregon’s chief elections officer, chief auditor and in charge of business registration. She was president of the National Association of Secretaries of State until her swearing in. She was presiding over an NASS conference in Washington, D.C. last week when Kitzhaber summoned her home for a meeting to originally say he was not resigning from office.
Brown will hold the governorship through a special election in 2016 to complete the remainder of Kitzhaber’s four-year term.
Brown becomes the nation’s first openly bisexual governor and the second governor in American history to be openly LGBT. Former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey (D) announced he was gay during an August 2004 press conference to announce his resignation. McGreevey served three months in office following the press conference until his resignation took effect in November.
Brown is Oregon’s second female governor, following former Gov. Barbara Roberts (D), who attended the inaugural ceremony. She becomes the third Democratic woman to currently hold a governorship, alongside New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan and Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo. Hassan was the only Democratic woman to hold a state governorship between 2013 and 2015, when Raimondo took office last month.
Three Republican women – South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin and New Mexico Gov. Susanna Martinez – currently serve as governors.
Outside of ethics issues, Brown did not outline much of her agenda during her speech. She noted that she wants to strengthen the Oregon economy, along with working on health care and the creation of living wage jobs across the state.
Brown talked about her time as a family law advocate and the work she did with children and families. She said that she saw issues in social services and poverty and has been working address these since she first became a state legislator in 1991.
“I carry with me those stories everyday when I come to work. Throughout my 24 years of public service I have sought to promote transparency and trust in government,” Brown said. “As your governor this will not change. I will be a governor who wants to hear the concerns of every day Oregonians.”
Brown focused much of her speech on promoting Oregon.
“We’re all fiercely proud to be Oregonians,” she said.