SALEM, Ore. — Oregon Gov. Kate Brown delivered her final State of the State address on Thursday, reflecting on the struggle of the COVID-19 pandemic and outlining her priorities for the remaining year of her term, particularly employment, housing and the climate crisis.
“As I enter my last year as governor, I still have moments where it feels surreal to have sat in this office and guided our state through a global pandemic,” she said. “While COVID-19 may have defined these times, it doesn’t need to define our lives.”
Term limits prevent Brown from running for reelection in November, making this her last State of the State address unless she were to win an additional nonconsecutive term as governor in a future election. The address comes as the Oregon Legislature convenes for the first week of a 35-day short session.
Brown began her address by touting the status of Oregon’s economy. The state is emerging from the pandemic in an improved economic position, she said, with rising family incomes and near-record low unemployment.
Oregon has fared better than most states during the pandemic, she added, with one of the lowest per-capita case rates in the country, a high vaccination rate and significant assistance for renters over the course of the pandemic.
She called for action both to maintain the current economic momentum and to address economic disparities, hiring difficulties among employers and job dissatisfaction among workers.
Brown recently proposed a $200 million package for the legislature to consider called "Future Ready Oregon," aimed at bolstering the state's workforce and providing support to marginalized populations, and she reiterated her push for the legislation during the speech.
“In order to make transformational change in our state, we need to life up the communities that have been left behind,” she said. “And let’s be honest, the families who have faced discrimination and barriers to economic opportunity for generations.”
The proposal would include an immediate $92 million for existing programs that provide job training and career support, she said, plus grants to community-based organizations that focus on workforce development in the health care, construction and technology and manufacturing industries.
The final piece would be a statewide network of “navigators” that would help connect Oregonians with job training programs that provide for their basic needs such as housing and child care. Brown said she would also ask the legislature for a $100 million investment in expanding child care access.
Turning to the housing crisis, Brown called for an additional $400 million investment in affordable housing. Single-family home prices in Portland have tripled since the turn of the century, she said, and the problem extends statewide, with more than 15,000 Oregonians experiencing homelessness.
“There is no avoiding the fact that these two issues are undeniably linked – a lack of affordable housing and some of the highest rates of people experiencing homelessness,” she said.
Oregon has paid out more than $400 million in rental assistance in the last year alone, she said, which kept 36,000 families housed, but it is still “just a drop in the bucket.”
Addressing climate change, Brown pressed for further action to lower carbon emissions, promote clean energy sources and support communities hardest hit by extreme weather and climate shifts.
Oregon closed its last coal power plant ahead of schedule in 2020, she said, and has set targets for carbon emissions reduction and transitioning to clean energy that can make the state a model for climate action nationwide.
But every year of her tenure as governor has seen more extreme weather than the last, she added, pointing to drought, flooding, wildfires, winter storm power outages and last summer’s heat dome event.
“Climate change is a hammer hitting us in the head,” she said.
In a press release after the address, Oregon House and Senate Republicans criticized Brown's speech as "out of touch" and "silent on solutions to crime," arguing that she ignored public frustration over high crime levels in the state.
"The lack of urgency Democrats have brought to this crisis is shocking," Senate Republican Leader Tim Knopp (R-Bend) said in a statement. "The Governor's workforce package won't do anything for our economy if people don't feel safe to work or do business here."
Republicans vying to take her seat seized on the same critique.
"Brown completely ignored addressing the most important role of government–protecting citizens. Her administration has failed to keep citizens safe," said GOP candidate Bud Pierce. "Portland had record-breaking homicides last year."
In an email to KGW, Former Oregon House Minority Leader and current gubernatorial candidate Christine Drazan added "Governor Brown's failed policies have left Oregonians paying billions more in taxes, undermined public safety, and cheapened the value of an Oregon diploma."
Democratic candidate Nicholas Kristof also weighed in on the Governor's address Thursday.
His campaign said in an email, "Nick has met with Oregonians across the state who say they have been left behind and struggle with affordable housing, childcare, and economic opportunities in their communities. While we'll see a number of bills passed in the coming weeks, Nick is particularly interested in the follow-through and implementation so that good intentions lead to real and positive outcomes for the people of our state."
KGW reached out to Governor Brown about the criticisms of her State of the State address. As of Thursday evening, she had not responded.
Watch Brown's full address: