Meet Oregon's next governor, Kate Brown

Who is Kate Brown?

SALEM, Ore. -- Kate Brown, a Democrat, has served as Oregon's Secretary of State since 2008, and is set to become Oregon's 38th governor on Wednesday, Feb. 18.

Since Oregon does not have a lieutenant governor, Brown is first in line of succession with the resignation of Governor John Kitzhaber.

"This is a sad day for Oregon," Brown said in a statement Friday. "But I am confident that legislators are ready to come together to move Oregon forward. I know you all have a lot of questions, and I will answer them as soon as possible. As you can imagine, there is a lot of work to be done between now and Wednesday."

Brown, 54, was born in Spain but grew up in Minnesota. She currently lives in Portland with her husband Dan. She is also openly bisexual and was the first statewide officeholder in the nation to come out with this identity.

Her sexuality has never been a prominent issue in Oregon, where Portland recently had an openly gay mayor in Sam Adams and where the current speaker of the House, Tina Kotek, is a lesbian.

In an essay for an online national survey, she said, "I believe it was during my early 30s that I figured out who, or what, I am. But it wasn't until it was written in the Oregonian newspaper that I was bisexual that I had to face the inevitable and let those around me know."

Asked about her on Thursday, spokesman Tony Green said that, so far as he knows, nothing about those descriptions has changed. He said he's put the question directly to Brown, but she has not responded.

A 2012 documentary featuring openly LGBT elected officials included an interview with Brown on the subject.

With Brown poised to become the state's chief executive, the Human Rights Campaign issued a statement in support:

"Few are better prepared to lead the great state of Oregon than Kate Brown. She's a known commodity to Oregonians with a distinguished record of service of over two decades. And while she'll make history as the nation's first sitting LGBT governor, the more important truth is that she's supremely capable of leading the state to better days ahead."

As Secretary of State, Brown's online bio explains that her main goals during her two terms in office have been to remove barriers to voter registration, help promote growth for businesses and entrepreneurs, create accountability for improving education and provide better services for "the most vulnerable" Oregonians.

Before starting her career in public service, Brown practiced family and juvenile law and taught at Portland State University. She earned her law degree at Lewis and Clark Law School.

A former colleague who worked with Brown while she was the Oregon Senate majority leader said her experience has prepared her well for her upcoming duties.

"She has remarkably broad experience, so if anybody could step in right away and hit the ground running, it's Kate," said Jim Oleske, now an associate professor of law at Lewis and Clark. "It's hard to think of someone with better qualifications to take over under these circumstances."

Brown, 54, became involved in Oregon politics starting in the 1990s. She was appointed to the state House of Representatives in 1991 and served 3 terms. Then she was elected to the Oregon Senate and chosen as Senate Democratic leader in 1998. In 2004 she became the first woman to serve as Senate Majority Leader.

In her free time, Brown said she loves to ride horses and practice yoga. Her Secretary of State Facebook page even features a photo of her on horseback. She keeps in contact with her followers through other social media, too. This includes her Oregon SOS blog and Twitter account, @OregonSOS.

Brown works out of the Capitol in Salem but her job also requires travel. She was most recently in Washington, D.C., working with other state officials from across the nation. Brown serves as president for the National Association of Secretaries of State and was participating in a conference for the organization.

It was at that conference that she came into the public spotlight this week as she abruptly left it to return home, saying that she was summoned to return to Oregon. That fueled speculation that she may be preparing to step in as the state's next governor in the event of a resignation by Gov. Kitzhaber.

The Secretary of State is Oregon's chief elections officer, auditor and archivist. In addition, the secretary serves with the governor and treasurer on the Land Board and manages and oversees Oregon's Common School Fund. Excluding benefits, the job's annual salary is $77,000, according to state records. By contrast, the governor's listed salary is $98,600.

Oregon is the only state where the Secretary of State is also responsible for auditing public spending.

If Brown were to take over as governor of Oregon, she would remain in office until the next biennial general election in November 2016. At that point, an election would be held to fill the remaining two years of Kitzhaber's original four-year term.

Records dating back to the early 1900s show that a Secretary of State has moved into the governor's office at least three times before. Secretary of State Stephen Chadwick took over as governor in 1877, Frank Benson in 1909, and Ben Olcott in 1919.

If a governor dies or resigns, the Oregon Constitution says that a Secretary of State would be first in line for the job, followed by the State Treasurer, Senate President, and then the House Speaker. Ted Wheeler is currently the State Treasurer, Peter Courtney the Senate President and Tina Kotek the House Speaker. They are all Democrats, along with Kitzhaber and Brown.


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