A Tale of Two Kates

By Jacob Vandever 

This past week Kate Brown was inaugurated as Governor of the State of Oregon. The Governor’s speech which followed her swearing in, if acted upon, could signal some moves in the right direction. By focusing a major portion of her speech on the plight of rural Oregonians, the Governor acknowledged an area that many, myself included, would consider to be a blind spot for Oregon Democrats. The Governor began her remarks by quoting Republican Governor Tom McCall “let us put aside the temptations to be guided by regionalism, factionalism, or anything which fragments the public interest. May we pledge to one another….to work not in partisanship, but in partnership.”

Now I am a sucker for Tom McCall quotes and I would love to believe that the Governor has a plan to help rural Oregon and intends on working with Republicans in the legislature to address the problems faced by our state, but then again I’ve been hurt before. While I am glad that the Governor took the time to discuss the situation of rural folks, it rings sour when it comes on the heels of the Democratic Leadership discontinuing the House Committee on Rural Communities, Land Use and Water.

Additionally Governor Brown signaled some willingness to work on the PERS unfunded liability.

“I look forward to the other solutions to be proposed in the months ahead. As we consider our next steps, let’s agree to keep our promises to retirees. Let’s ensure that no one can advantage of the system. And let’s seek solutions that are legally viable, so that dead ends aren’t left to languish in court while the challenge of PERS only continues to grow.”

I couldn’t agree more. We need to pass reforms to our retirement system that will be upheld by the Supreme Court. While I am glad to see more openness from the Governor on this issue, it draws a contrast from her remarks from the Oregon Leadership Summit when Governor Brown told the business community that “if your only solution is to cut teachers’ salaries and renege on our promise to retirees, then this conversation will not go very far.”

So I am hopeful that we can take the Governor at her word here. I am hopeful that we can pass a bipartisan transportation package that gives much-needed attention to our roads and bridges. I am hopeful that we can find a budget solution that includes addressing the massive cost drivers associated with PERS and Medicaid. I am hopeful that we can find ways to bring jobs and prosperity to folks in rural Oregon.

To those ends, we should work together with the Governor and Democrats in the legislature, but if this is, as I fear, simply the lip service that comes right before the beginning of a contentious session, we should work tirelessly to hold the Governor accountable for her promises.

This Governor Brown sounded much different than the Governor Brown we have heard from in the past, especially on the campaign trail. Let’s hope that the Governor’s words are backed up with action, but personally I will believe it when I see it.