Can Kate Brown overcome her partisan tendencies?

Dan Lucas_July 2012_BW

by Dan Lucas

Democratic Gov. Kate Brown has recently confirmed that she will be running in next year’s special election for Oregon governor. The special election is for the remaining two years of Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber’s 4-year term. Kitzhaber resigned in disgrace back in February, amidst numerous state and federal investigations, which triggered his replacement by then Secretary of State Brown. Brown has been serving out the remainder of Kitzhaber’s first term (first two years of his fourth 4-year term) for seven months now.

She has been getting favorable treatment from the Oregon media and she even got complimented on her “verve” by the New York Times. A survey back in June found “more than half of Oregon’s registered voters approve of Gov. Kate Brown’s job performance” so far.

It’s a testament to how blue a state Oregon is. Despite the scandals that led to fellow Democrat Kitzhaber’s resignation, Oregon has moved quickly to embrace the new Democratic replacement and to equally quickly try to forget the Kitzhaber-Hayes scandals.

Against that backdrop, maybe it’s not necessary for Brown to change her partisan behavior. She has been a reliable cog in the well-oiled Democratic political machine that has run Oregon for decades.

Brown’s partisan behavior goes back at least to redistricting in 2001. That’s when the Republican-controlled Oregon House and Senate passed a redistricting plan that was vetoed by then-Gov. Kitzhaber. The Oregonian reported “When the Republicans tried to overturn the veto, Democratic lawmakers hid out at the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, where state troopers had no jurisdiction to bring them back to the Capitol.” Apparently Democrats feel OK breaking rules when it suits them. Kate Brown was the Senate Democratic Leader at the time. The Democratic secretary of state then produced a legislative redistricting map that was petty and “about as partisan as they come” – something Brown lamely defended at the time.

Her partisan behavior was evident again in her mishandling of the 2012 labor commissioner race. Brown moved the month of the race to favor fellow Democrat Brad Avakian – a move that was roundly criticized in newspapers around the state, including Willamette Week, The Oregonian and the Eugene Register-Guard, and a move that was refuted by Oregon Legislative Counsel.

In September 2014 Willamette Week reported Patricia McCaig was “working off the books” on Gov. John Kitzhaber’s re-election campaign. McCaig, the self-named “Princess of Darkness,” had her consulting work on Kitzhaber’s 2010 campaign reported to the Secretary of State. Her 2014 campaign consulting, however, had not been reported as required to the Oregon Secretary of State, which Willamette Week noted was “contrary to state election laws.” Despite that, then Secretary of State Kate Brown’s office found that fellow Democrat Kitzhaber didn’t need to report McCaig’s 2014 work for his campaign. Given all that has transpired with Kitzhaber and McCaig – including with Cover Oregon and the Columbia River Crossing – this partisan decision may still come back to haunt Brown.

More recently there was the revelation that Gov. Brown had consulted with California billionaire, environmental extremist, and major Democratic funder Tom Steyer before deciding to throw in the towel on her failed 2015 transportation package effort.

The thing I think is most troubling, though, is Brown’s handling of the whistleblower. It’s a genuinely scary side to her – like something Nixon would have done. I’m glad the state settled with the whistleblower – maybe they were worried about the discovery process in his threatened lawsuit – but the retribution they put him through, including criminal charges, is despicable. Despite Brown’s claims of wanting more government transparency, her partisan actions in punishing the whistleblower who refused to delete emails from Brown’s fellow Democrat Kitzhaber will have a chilling effect on any potential future whistleblowers. Forget anyone inside state government speaking up on wrongdoings for a long time.

Equally troubling to Oregonians should be how our docile media is letting Brown’s handling of the whistleblower slide. Our docile media that has a history of struggling to hold powerful politicians on both sides of the aisle accountable.

Even though it may not be politically necessary for Gov. Brown to change her partisan behavior, it sure would be nice to have an Oregon governor who fairly represented ALL Oregonians.

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