Katherine “Kate” Brown

2015 State of the State Address - April 17, 2015

Katherine “Kate” Brown
April 17, 2015— Salem, Oregon
Print friendly

As prepared.

Greetings. Many thanks to President Kervin for that kind introduction, and to the Portland City Club and OPB for this opportunity to share with you the state of our great State.

As of tomorrow morning at 10 a.m., I will have been in office for exactly two months.

A lot has happened in sixty days, although considering the controversy I inherited, a lot needed to happen, and quickly.

A fresh start for the people of Oregon was an important first step for me as Governor. So I immediately replaced several key staff positions and created a new one, the first senior policy advisor dedicated to ethics and public records.

Three state and federal investigations of the former Governor and First Lady were already underway when I arrived on February 18th; two more were initiated shortly thereafter. My office is cooperating fully, which includes responding to a huge backlog of public records requests and a federal subpoena that requires legal review of more than one million documents.

Certainly, there is—and will continue to be—plenty of work to be done to resolve unanswered questions about the previous administration; work that will require the undivided attention of several members of my staff and, no doubt, the media, for months to come.

In the meantime, I am taking action to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again. I have identified three main areas of concern:

One: Our public records law needs a thoughtful and informed overhaul.

Two: The role and expectations of First Partner as a public official need to be clear and reflect modern-day relationships.

And three, we must strengthen ethics laws to ensure transparency and accountability among public officials at all levels of government.

In response to these three concerns, I have introduced three bills.

One requires the State Auditor to conduct an independent review of state agencies' processes for responding to requests for public records. Before we contemplate meaningful changes to improve our public records law, we need an analysis of current state agency practices related to cost, turnaround time and compliance with existing laws. Information from this audit will allow policy makers to make informed, fact-based decisions.

Two more bills strengthen the Oregon Ethics Commission and address important structural changes, such as distributing the power to appoint members of the Commission, and tightening timelines related to processing complaints. These bills also clarify the role and expectations of the First Partner and increase penalties for knowingly using elective office for personal gain. They also prohibit speakers' fees for statewide office-holders and for the First Partner while in office.

Oregonians have had cause to question their trust in state government. The steps I have proposed will foster transparency and accountability. That is the best way to demonstrate our commitment to restoring credibility in the aftermath of the recent turmoil. The Legislature cannot go home until we get this done.

But it is important to remember that, during those distressing weeks of headlines announcing investigations and resignations, the rest of the state's issues, needs and challenges didn't go away.

And believe me, there is no shortage. In fact, a reporter at the Oregonian thoughtfully provided me with a to-do list, published the day before I was sworn in. It covered everything from assembling a new staff to figuring out where to weigh in on all the different House and Senate bills.

And although the circumstances may have been less than ideal, let me just say up front: I don't feel like I was thrown into the deep end of the pool—I dove in.

And I did what I always do. I rolled up my sleeves and got to work. And in the past sixty days, in addition to addressing subpoenas and public records requests, I have also done a few other important things. I have signed 32 bills into law, including the New Motor Voter bill, landmark legislation that will bring ballots to literally hundreds of thousands of new Oregon voters.

I appointed Jeanne Atkins as Oregon Secretary of State. I joined many of you in mourning the loss of three great Oregonians: Brady Adams, Dave Frohnmayer and Gretchen Kafoury. Their legacy of service and leadership has changed Oregon for the better, and they will be missed.

I also have declared drought emergencies in five Oregon counties, and expect to do the same in several more. I have made public service announcements about wildfire prevention, and about the importance of meningitis vaccinations for U of O students.

I meet regularly with agency heads and with legislative leadership regarding my budget and policy priorities. My package of ethics and public records bills has been introduced with bipartisan support and I have testified at public hearings. I have also discussed these bills with nine editorial boards from news outlets all over Oregon, and they have been very well-received.

I've toured workforce housing, observed unmanned aerial vehicle demonstrations, and read aloud Dr. Seuss's "Oh the Places You'll Go" to elementary students.

In my very first public appearance as Governor, I visited—without the media—Rosa Parks Elementary, a wonderful school in North Portland, where the students waved and shouted, "Hey, new governor! Hi new governor!" as I walked through the halls.

That is a day I will never forget.

On a ranch in Brothers, Oregon, I got down on my hands and knees, along with Sally Jewell, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, to eradicate juniper shrubs. Ultimately, we decided we should keep our day jobs, which doesn't usually require the use of pruners.

However, we both felt quite comfortable handling a pen, and we were there to sign an important document: an agreement that will sustain the well-being of the sage grouse, a remarkable bird that makes its home in Eastern Oregon, as well as the people and communities that share that home.

As of today, I have visited eight communities in eastern, central and southern Oregon and in the mid-Willamette valley.

During those visits, in addition to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, I have met with educators, parents and students; business leaders; tribal leaders; soldiers being deployed; older Oregonians in nursing care facilities—even a group of exhausted firefighters, who had been working since dawn to put out a devastating fire at South Albany High School.

So when people ask, "How's it going?"—and they ask me this a lot—I feel like I've got a pretty solid answer: It's really busy.

But the reason I wanted to recap those first sixty days in office is this:

I have spent these past two months more immersed in Oregon than ever; my days entirely filled with the opportunities, dreams, challenges and achievements of working-class Oregonians.

And when I think about the state of our State, I'm thinking about you.

And I ask myself: what is the state of opportunity for working families in Oregon—the opportunity to be educated for success in a complex, global economy; to find good jobs in our chosen communities; to raise healthy families in safe neighborhoods; to plan for a comfortable retirement?

In short, what is the state of Oregonians' opportunity to thrive?

Predictably, the answer is mixed, but it is trending in ways that are positive.

For one thing, the state's economy is making a comeback, with just 5.4 percent of Oregonians unemployed. This is slightly lower than the national average, and the state's lowest unemployment in eight years. Oregon's gone from having the seventh highest unemployment in the nation a little over a year ago to a three-way tie for 20th with New York and Alabama.

And this, by the way, is a race where we'd like to come in dead last.

My priority is to ensure that this economic recovery results in meaningful opportunities for Oregonians who are working hard to make a better life for their families—that it means more good, family-wage jobs. It's important, as our economic picture continues to brighten, that all Oregonians can thrive—no matter who they are or what part of the state they live in.

What's more, our own Oregon-grown businesses are key to the state's economic recovery: Seventy percent of new jobs in this state are created when existing Oregon companies grow and expand.

After years of responding to the collapse of our natural resource-based economy in the 1980s, Oregon now boasts a diverse manufacturing base and significant growth in high-tech hardware, software development, foods, and of course, athletic and outdoor gear.

In other words, in this state, we make things. Innovative, useful, marketable—and in some cases, delicious—things.

We manufacture silicon chips with a vibrant high-tech industry anchored by Intel's largest facility in the world; and all-natural potato chips at the world's biggest producer, Kettle Foods.

Oregon is a leader in food processing with literally tons of local berries, hazelnuts and wheat turned into countless products by ConAgra, Amy's Kitchen, Diamond Foods and hundreds of other food processing firms. Their products are shipped world-wide.

Not only is Oregon home to Columbia Sportswear, Keen and Nike, but also Adidas-America, Dakine and LaCrosse-Danner. (Oregon really likes feet, especially when they're in motion.)

A fast-growing aerospace and Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, or "UAV" industry also is rising up, with leaders such as Boeing and Cloudcap Technologies leading the way.

Let me take a moment to amplify this point: The commercial UAV industry is projected to grow fivefold over the next five years, bringing high paying jobs to any region that has the necessary infrastructure.

Currently, there are three UAV test sites here in Oregon. In March, I approved a half-million dollar forgivable loan to support a UAV testing facility in Pendleton. This loan, coupled with additional support from Business Oregon means the City of Pendleton now has the financial resources it needs to continue the development of this site.

Rural Oregon is the perfect test bed to push the evolution in UAV technology into new areas like sustainable agriculture and forestry. These key opportunities are expected to be a big part of the estimated 100 family-wage jobs that this site will create.

When presented with the chance to seize a key moment, Oregon is poised to step forward and support community leaders working to develop a new industry in an important part of the state.

As we say at Business Oregon, your lead agency for advancing Oregon business, we must "grow our own." (And just to be perfectly clear, this has nothing to do with Measure 91—I checked.)

"Grow Our Own" calls on us to invest in Oregon-based industries and businesses, to work to retain them and help them grow and expand. We also must foster start-ups and attract new companies to Oregon.

In building a thriving economy that expands opportunities for Oregonians we must also connect education, workforce development, housing and transportation.

As we all know, a safe and efficient transportation system is essential to getting goods to market, workers to their jobs, and creates a desirable quality of life that attracts innovative people to our state.

And ultimately, when we look at our transportation system, we must be mindful of how Oregonians choose to get around. No matter how we do—whether we walk to school, drive to work, catch a train for a family visit, or bike to the gym—the system we travel on needs to get us there safely.

Looking ahead, however, the resources needed to operate, preserve, and make much-needed improvements are non-existent.

We need to invest in passenger rail, freight rail, bicycle routes and other transportation alternatives. As anyone in the tri-county area can attest, congestion is a very real problem that threatens our quality of life.

If you've tried to drive between Beaverton and Portland after 3 p.m. on a weekday, you are well aware that congestion is a major issue for businesses in Washington County—and for its more than half a million residents as well.

For example, I recently visited Pacific Foods in Tualatin. Current traffic configurations and congestion on the Tualatin-Sherwood Highway make it virtually impossible for their delivery trucks to pull out and head eastbound towards I-5. Transportation improvements are desperately needed to ensure that Washington County residents, workers and products can get where they need to go efficiently and safely. These are improvements that cannot and will not be achieved without new money.

I spent time in Medford earlier this week: Over the past five years, Harry and David Corporation has been challenged by freight delays to PDX. During their busy season, October to December, 80-100 trucks per day depart the Medford headquarters, many bound for the air freight facilities at PDX. There are times when they've diverted their shipments to the Port of Oakland, California, instead of Portland, due to severe congestion and delays. This is unacceptable.

These issues are real, and they are statewide.

So this is my wake-up call. Now is the time for the Legislature to step up and make these investments. Passing a transportation package is among my highest priorities. It will not be easy, but we cannot shy away from this important work. Let your legislators know how crucial this is.

Ultimately, my legislative colleagues must choose to put the needs of the economy ahead of partisanship, and send me a transportation package to sign before the end of session. As I'm sure you agree, this is critically important to Oregon's future.

Transportation, education, housing—these are fundamental infrastructure supports that will help sustain our economic recovery.

And although state government does not create private sector jobs, it will always have an important role to play in being proactive on these fronts.

For example, building affordable housing so Oregonians can live near their places of employment. As Pendleton's Jim Chaney, owner of Hill Meat Company, recently put it, employees who travel an hour each way to their jobs—that's an additional ten hours a week they can't spend with their families. A huge loss of family time.

The recession took its toll on low-income Oregonians, especially families. Over the past ten years, the number of homeless students in the K-12 education system doubled. Now that the economy is turning the corner, wages and public funding for services have not kept pace with Oregon's thriving housing market. Property values state-wide have risen more than 5% in the past year alone.

In 2014, an Oregon family income needed to be the equivalent of at least $16.28 an hour, 40 hours a week, in order to afford a two-bedroom apartment. A minimum-wage worker would need to work 72 hours a week to afford the same unit. A person living on Social Security would need to find an additional $630 a month to afford it.

Many Oregon communities also have a shortage of affordable housing, with vacancy rates lower than 1% in some parts of the state. There are only 20 affordable and available rental units for every 100 low-income households. In Central Oregon, homeless shelters are serving people who have jobs, but simply cannot find a place to live.

These needs are immediate and urgent. I have proposed a housing package that would add 4,000 new units of affordable housing over the next five years. This would be an important step forward in ensuring all Oregonians have access to a decent and affordable place to call home.

Investments in Oregon's infrastructure are important to the long-term well-being of the state, to be sure. But for individual Oregonians and their families, the key to prosperity is and will always be education.

What is the state of opportunity for all Oregonians to access high-quality education from cradle to career?

Through my work early on as a family advocate and legislator, I know there is much more we can do as a state to make sure every Oregon child is ready to learn when she or he starts kindergarten, and reading proficiently by third grade. That is why I have prioritized investment in early learning and literacy programs for Oregon's youngest learners—to close opportunity gaps for students before they develop.

Our public schools should not only foster academic success but ensure that we support the stability and health of all our students and families. And we must remove barriers to learning for students and families where languages other than English are spoken at home. I know from my experiences in Portland that as many as 70 different languages are spoken in our public schools.

We should also engage the parents of these students in a manner that values their history and language. Parents are often hungry for opportunities to connect with schools and school leaders.

So much so, in fact, that Latino Network often has waiting lists for their school-based literacy program, Juntos Aprendemos.

Genaro Montiel, father of five-year-old Itzel, heard about the program through his neighbor. Determined to access literacy support for his daughter, he came faithfully, week after week, to the Juntos Aprendemos program at Glenfair School in East Portland—even after being told the program was full. He would arrive each week, holding Itzel's hand as they waited outside the portable classroom, hoping a spot would open up. Last fall, one did.

He noticed that, as her vocabulary and letter recognition grew, so did her confidence about entering kindergarten. He also learned helpful parenting techniques to boost his shy daughter's self-esteem. She started kindergarten at Shaver Elementary this fall. The Montiel family is now one of the most active families in their school.

Economic equity and educational equity go hand in hand. Persistent opportunity gaps, and long-standing inequalities for communities of color and low-income Oregonians continue to stand in the way of prosperity.

An audit completed while I was Secretary of State revealed that Oregon has struggled to improve both student achievement and graduation rates. This state ranks as low as 40th in student achievement and our on-time graduation rate is very low when compared to other states, at 69%.

We need to focus on student graduation and retention, including strategies to tackle chronic absenteeism, and actively reengaging students who leave school before earning a diploma. Graduate rates are a sobering reminder of how far we need to go to ensure the promise of opportunity for every student, especially students of color.

Today, 52% of Native American, 57% of Black, and 61% of Latino students drop out of high school, as do 60% of economically disadvantaged students. This dropout rate is due, in part, to our inability to meet the educational needs of these diverse students.

This must change.

Leaving school without a high school diploma is no longer a viable economic option. Let me illustrate how serious this issue is: As of 2014, 336,000 adult Oregonians did not have a GED or high school diploma. That's more than the combined populations of the cities of Salem and Eugene. Not too surprisingly, the rate of unemployment for people without a high school diploma or GED is double what it is for people with a bachelor's degree.

This issue is personal to me as well. My stepson dropped out of high school. We were fortunate we had the resources to help him get his GED. Not every family does.

I am grateful for the Portland City Club's leadership on this issue, and agree that, as a state, we must increase the number of Oregonians completing their GED.

Better still would be to find ways to close the opportunity gap and keep students from dropping out in the first place.

And on that front, there is good news.

Middle school is a critical time in student development, and through a focused and collaborative effort by the state and local districts, nearly 40 middle schools are successfully closing opportunity gaps in math or reading.

A great example is Walker Middle School, a Title I school in Salem. At Walker, the educators start with the premise that all of their students should be prepared to go to college, a process that starts with success in high school. Outside each classroom is a placard saying where the teacher graduated from college.

Educators work in teams to tackle issues they are having in the classroom or with particular students. Consequently it creates a warm supportive learning and teaching environment. The educators I met with described it as being much like a family.

I met two amazing students at Walker. Victoria wants to be President of the United States. Caeleun wants to be a doctor. I asked Caeleun whether she wanted to be the president's doctor. She said, "No. I want to be Surgeon General."

Not every child wants to run for president, but every student should have the opportunity to pursue their dreams.

For many, an important step that pursuit is a college education. The question is, can they afford it?

The cost of college is one of the biggest barriers to closing the opportunity gap and breaking the cycle of poverty.

Tiffany Dollar grew up in Portland with a mother addicted to drugs. She attended 13 different schools -- four schools in third grade alone. She stayed with friends and slept on couches in order to finish high school. It is not unusual for students like Tiffany to drop out and remain in poverty.

But thanks to a couple of her teachers who recognized her ability to succeed, Tiffany enrolled and graduated from Portland State University. Her involvement in student leadership helped her land her first job.

As the first person in her family to graduate from college, Tiffany's story has a mostly happy ending—until the part where I mention her $60,000 in student debt. And her first job pays about $30,000 a year, which means financially, Tiffany is hanging on. But barely.

There is absolutely no question that education is the key to a better life. College graduates have greater earning power over the course of their careers, and more career options. It may represent more of an investment than we've previously been willing to make. But we must address the cost of a four-year degree from Oregon's public universities so that it's actually affordable for Oregonians—not just Californians.

We also need to ensure a good return on investment, with educational programs at our high schools, community colleges and universities that tie learning to real jobs with Oregon businesses.

Here are a couple of great examples: At Benson High School, you can get clinical nursing experience before you graduate from high school. How cool is that? Portland Community College has partnered with Vigor Industries to train students to be welders—literally, right on the docks.

As your governor, I am fighting for a seamless education system spanning birth to career. My budget includes more resources for higher education, including the largest investment in community colleges since I served in the Legislature. There are also additional investments in career technical and STEM education. These will open doors for students in rural and underserved communities throughout Oregon.

The budget also includes significant investments in high-quality teaching and learning. There are increased resources for supporting and training excellent teachers, which every student in every school in this state needs and deserves. Because who among us has not been inspired, even transformed, at some time in our lives, by a gifted teacher?

These are incredibly important people in the lives of our children. From kindergarten through high school graduation, an Oregon child will spend nearly thirteen thousand hours with educators in our public schools. We must make sure they have the tools and resources necessary for success, including reasonable class sizes, so student learning can flourish.

As I mentioned, I have had the opportunity to travel the state extensively since becoming your Governor. I have met with a lot of people, and this much is clear about Oregonians: we love Oregon. We want to be a part of determining how decisions are made. Oregonians like to participate, and we want to be heard. And our collective decisions should reflect a variety of perspectives.

This is important to me. When it comes to making public policy, the outcomes are better when more voices are at the table.

As the largest employer in the state with over 38,000 employees, state government should set the example. Equity and inclusion for all Oregonians cannot happen if it is solely the responsibility of one or two designated staff members to address. So in my administration, we are working together to change the way we do business in state government with the diverse communities throughout Oregon.

Here's another observation from my visits around the state: As inspired as I am by Oregon's rugged beauty, I am also aware that our way of life is being stalked by climate change.

The evidence is compelling: record low snowpack, the warmest winter since 1895, and five Oregon counties in states of drought emergency before mid-April—and I predict more on the way.

I am very concerned about drought, and its nefarious companion, wildfire, not only for this upcoming summer season, but summers yet to come. As you know, we cannot talk about prosperity and economic recovery without acknowledging the crucial role water plays in our quality of life and our livelihoods. This may sound strange coming from the governor of the state best known for its high rainfall and lush, green landscapes. But the threats to our water supply are all too real.

Addressing the possibility of water shortages has been front and center since Day One. I have assembled leaders from key state agencies, the Office of Emergency Management and our local and federal partners. We are taking steps to mitigate drought and prevent wildfire—or be ready to combat it, when and if it should it occur.

Additionally, I am concerned about future water shortages and the likelihood that Oregon's population will continue to grow as the livability of other areas of the country is compromised by climate change.

My budget includes $56 million for a statewide water resources program. This program calls for collaborative, place-based planning for water conservation and storage, and includes funding for implementing projects all over the state that result from the planning efforts.

We must be good stewards and work together to find solutions that serve our needs today as well as those of future generations of Oregonians.

So, tomorrow is my 60th day as Governor. My sense is that, as a state, we are through the hardest part of that transition. Although there is much still to be done, we are back on track, working together and moving forward. Ahead, there are blue skies and green lights. Condition stable; all systems go. Let's get there together.

Thank you.

State Library of Oregon. 2015. "Governor Kate Brown, state of the state address, Portland City Club." https://digital.osl.state.or.us/islandora/object/osl%3A16879

The Oregonian. "Governor Kate Brown delivers first State of the State speech." YouTube video, 38:47. April 17, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dKTOHmE9zKc.