* Served in Oregon’s state legislature for 18 years
* Served as Oregon’s Secretary of State from 2009-2015
* Became Governor of Oregon in 2016
* Opponent of Voter ID laws
* Supports the Green New Deal
Kate Brown was born on June 21, 1960, in Torrejón de Ardoth, Spain, and subsequently spent most of her childhood in Minnesota. She earned a BA in environmental conservation at the University of Colorado in 1981, and a JD at the Northwestern School of Law in 1985. After completing her legal studies, Brown practiced family and juvenile law while also teaching at Portland State University.
While employed by the Women’s Rights Coalition in 1991, Brown was appointed, as a Democrat, to a vacant seat in the Oregon House of Representatives. She went on to serve in Oregon’s state legislature for the next 18 years, including a stint in the State Senate from 2003-09. Brown subsequently served as Oregon’s Secretary of State from 2009 until February 2015, when, in accordance with the state’s rules of succession, she replaced Democratic Governor John Kitzhaber following his resignation due to an ethics scandal.
In one of her earliest moves as governor in February 2015, Brown extended the anti-capital-punishment policy of her predecessor, fellow Democrat John Kitzhaber, by announcing a continued moratorium on executions in the state of Oregon.
Running on both the Democratic and Working Familes Party lines, Brown won a special election in November 2016 to determine who would serve the remaining two years of Kitzhaber’s elected term. She became the first openly bisexual governor in American history.
In 2015, Brown signed into law a “motor voter” bill that allowed election officials to use driver’s-license data to automatically register some 300,000 state residents as new voters. This was a departure from the traditional policy which had required Oregonians to take a separate step to register to vote at the Department of Motor Vehicles after obtaining or renewing their drivers’ licenses.
Brown is a strong opponent of voter ID laws that require individuals to present a government-issued photo identification card at polling places. By Brown’s telling, such laws are part and parcel of an insidious “war on voting” that is “happening across the country.”
Following a series of Islamic terrorist attacks that killed at least 130 people in Paris in November 2015, Brown took pains to differentiate herself from other U.S. governors who were voicing opposition to policies that would permit large numbers of refugees from terror-infested Middle Eastern nations to resettle in the United States. “Clearly, Oregon will continue to accept refugees,” said Brown. “They seek safe haven and we will continue to open the doors of opportunity for them…. The words on the Statue of Liberty apply in Oregon just as they do in every other state.”
In January 2016, Brown proposed that a two-tiered minimum-wage hike be implemented in Oregon over a six-year period. Her plan called for raising the minimum hourly wage, which at that time stood at $9.25 statewide, to $15.52 in the Portland area, and to $13.50 across the rest of the state. “The costs of essentials such as food, child care, and rent are rising so fast that wages can’t keep up,” said Brown. “Many Oregonians working full-time can’t make ends meet, and that’s not right.” In March 2016, Brown signed a bill raising the minimum wage to $14.75 in the Portland area, and to $13.50 and $12.50 in suburban and rural regions, respectively.
In August 2015, Brown signed Senate Bill 932, a “tuition equity” measure expanding state financial aid to illegal-immigrant students enrolled in college.
Embracing the notion that the greenhouse gas emissions associated with human industrial activity are key contributors to potentially catastrophic “climate change,” Brown in 2015 voiced her “stron[g] support” for Senate Bill 324, legislation whose explicit goal was to reduce such emissions. “It is difficult to deny that we are seeing the effects of a warming planet,” said Brown. “This year, 85 percent of our state is experiencing drought, with 33 percent experiencing extreme drought.” Emphasizing “how important it is to Oregonians to act on climate change,” Brown in 2016 signed Senate Bill 1547, which: (a) required Oregon’s two largest utilities, Portland General Electric and Pacific Power, to stop paying for out-of-state coal power by 2030, and (b) stipulated that by 2040, the state’s utility companies would be required to fulfill at least 50% of their customers’ energy needs with wind and solar power, rather than with coal or petroleum.
After President Donald Trump announced in April 2018 that he was considering sending anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border to address a “surge of illegal activity,” Brown tweeted that “if [Trump] asks me to deploy Oregon Guard troops to the Mexico border, I’ll say no.” “As Commander of Oregon’s Guard,” Brown added, “I’m deeply troubled by Trump’s plan to militarize our border…. I have no intention of allowing Oregon’s guard troops to be used to distract from his troubles in Washington.”
In 2020, Governor Brown signed into law House Bill 4210, which prohibited the imposition of license suspensions as punishment for the nonpayment of traffic fines. The new statute, however, left existing nonpayment-related suspensions in place.
On December 21, 2022, Brown – on the premise that those already-existing license suspensions were unfairly having a disproportionate impact on low-income Oregonians — signed an order forgiving unpaid court fines and fees related to certain traffic violations that had resulted in suspensions. “The inability to pay a traffic fine should not deprive a person of the ability to lawfully drive to work, school, health care appointments, or other locations to meet their daily needs,” the Governor said in a news release. “We know that suspending driver’s licenses for unpaid traffic fines is bad public policy — it is inequitable, ineffective, and makes it harder for low-income Oregonians to get ahead. My action today will help alleviate the burden of legacy driver’s license suspensions imposed under a statutory scheme that the legislature has since overhauled.”
Reported KPTV.com: “Governor Brown’s order affects only those people who were sanctioned in traffic violation cases over two years ago, prior to the effective date of HB 4210. The order expressly excludes misdemeanor or felony traffic offense cases, and it does not forgive money owed to victims.”
On December 20, 2022, Brown – with only a few weeks remaining in her second and final term as governor – formally commuted the death sentences of all 17 death-row inmates in Oregon. Instead of being executed, they would serve life in prison with no chance of parole. The governor explained that she was exercising her executive clemency power not to reward any particular “rehabilitative efforts” by the individuals who stood to benefit from it, but rather as a “recognition that the death penalty is immoral.” “It is an irreversible punishment,” Brown added, “that does not allow for correction; is wasteful of taxpayer dollars; does not make communities safer; and cannot be and never has been administered fairly and equitably.” Citing also the psychological anguish experienced by people who sat on death row for decades without having their fates resolved with any measure of clarity, Brown said she hoped that her decision “will bring us a significant step closer to finality in these cases.”
During the course of her gubernatorial tenure, Brown had used her power of clemency more often than any of Oregon’s previous governors. Most notably, she had granted clemency to nearly 1,000 people during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020.
Noting that a disproportionate number of people on death row in Oregon were nonwhite, Brown, in December 2022, told Morning Edition‘s Rachel Martin that most of her prior clemency work had been rooted in her desire to make the state’s criminal-justice system more equitable. But her December 2022 action, she emphasized, was based solely on what she termed “the immorality of the death penalty.” “Justice is not advanced by taking a life and the state should not be in the business of executing people, even if a horrible, horrible crime or crimes placed them in prison,” added Brown. “The death penalty also has never been administered fairly, consistently, or equitably in Oregon or frankly, across the United States.”
“It’s certainly unacceptable to me that I would leave office without taking one final action to ensure that none of these individuals will be executed by the state,” Brown affirmed, adding: “I was elected by a majority of Oregonians, and I know that they share my values, that the death penalty is both dysfunctional and immoral. It is applied inequitably. And absolutely it does not make sense.”
Over the course of Brown’s political career, some of her most devoted supporters and endorsers have been organizations like EMILY’S List, NARAL, Planned Parenthood, the Service Employees International Union, the AFL-CIO, and the American Federation of Teachers. To view a list of additional key supporters, click here.
“Kate Brown” (Ballotpedia.org); “Kate Brown on Immigration” (OnTheIssues.org); “Kate Brown on Energy & Oil” (OnTheIssues.org); “Oregon Governor: I’ll Say No if Trump Asks Me to Deploy National Guard Troops to Mexico Border” (The Hill, 4-5-2018).