July | August 2017



 

by Courtney Daniel
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, who has also served in both chambers of
the legislature and as secretary of state, is CSG’s 2017 national president. Brown believes elected officials must engage young people in our system of government to ensure thriving states and communities. Brown is a CSG 2004 Henry Toll Fellow.

1. Oregon was the first state in the nation to enact automatic voter registration laws. How do you feel this strengthens the democratic process in your state?

“Oregon Motor Voter, or OMV, makes voter registration easier and engages people who otherwise would not have access to the ballot. With every voice added to the voter rolls, our government becomes more reflective of the communities it represents. A Center for American Progress study showed that OMV improved turnout in ethnic minority groups and younger, low-income and rural citizens. These groups are traditionally disenfranchised from this fundamental right, and OMV is allowing them to become empowered in the democratic process. Voter registration is too often used as a barrier to the democratic process. No one should have to prove they are worthy of being a registered voter. We are continuing forward down this path. I will soon be signing a bill allowing 16-year-olds to register to vote when they first get their driver’s license.”
 

2. In your preceding role as secretary of state, what initiatives did you implement that furthered civic involvement?

“Civic engagement is so important to our country, our state and our communities. Yet, it is taught less and less in our school systems. That means we, as elected officials, must engage young people in our system of government. The most important initiative I championed as secretary of state was Oregon’s first in the nation automatic voter registration system. Making voter registration this easy and accessible is something that may seem revolutionary to those of us who have voted for a long time. But it is actually quite intuitive to more youthful generations who are comfortable with innovation and technology making our lives easier and more secure. And the beauty of this law is that it allows for groups that do civic outreach to focus less on voter registration and more on engagement with real issues.”
 

3. You previously served 17 years in the state Legislature. Now in the executive branch, how has your approach to policy evolved?

“The lessons I learned over those 17 years were vital. My perspective today is still very much informed by being in the minority for so many years and transitioning from that dynamic to serve as the Senate majority leader. This taught me a lot about what it’s like to be on both sides of the legislative process. While our system is built on parties, often it’s the relationships we have that supersede party lines. Understanding one another is the key to being able to work together.”

4. How can civic education in the classroom be used as a tool to increase engagement in the legislative process?

“Civic education is a great way to empower our students. Knowing how our government works, how laws are made and how to be heard by our representatives is critical in understanding how to participate in and build up our democracy. We all have our causes and stories. The question is how can you harness those tools to create change? A civic education can be beneficial in illustrating that road map to our young people. I regularly see young people engaged at the capitol. Most recently, I met with a group of fifth graders who delivered more than 10,000 petitions advocating for the Clean Energy Jobs Bill. They totally get it. They know exactly how many votes they need in each chamber of the Legislature and are working hard to make their voice heard.”
 

5. As governor, what are your priorities for Oregon?

“My top priority is creating an Oregon where everyone has the opportunity to thrive. This means fighting for equity and lowering barriers that disproportionately affect vulnerable populations. It means building a strong education system that ensures children can learn in a safe, caring environment and come out prepared to take on their futures. It also means that entrepreneurs and small businesses have the tools they need to compete in the global economy and help grow Oregon’s economy. I’m fighting for access to health care for all and ensuring our system doesn’t discriminate based on gender identity, sexual orientation, pre-existing conditions, or income. Everyone deserves the opportunity to be healthy, and in turn contribute to the health of our society. Finally, we need to care for our environment so that our future generations have clean air, clean water and beautiful landscapes to work and recreate in. That’s why I’m working with other governors around the country to stay committed to the Paris Agreement.”

6. In this sharply divided political climate, how do you work to bring your state together on important issues?

“I like to believe that regardless of where we stand on the political spectrum, we all want excellent schools and educators for our students. We all want our children to grow up to be healthy, independent and happy. And we want jobs and support systems that allow families to make ends meet and properly care for one another. I believe that in order to get to where we need to be as a state, we need to listen. We need to genuinely be curious about others’ beliefs and stances and challenge ourselves to understand one another in good faith. That’s why I spend so much time traveling to communities across Oregon. I listened to the business community, educators, local officials and advocates, and they have really informed how my office has approached policy. At the end of the day, this isn’t about who wins. It’s about making Oregon a great place to live, work and play.”
 

7. Do you believe that bringing more women and minorities into government will increase citizen involvement in the political process?

“By bringing diverse voices to the table, we all benefit. However, when working to elevate women, we must think more broadly and inclusively. We know that women of color, LGBTQ women, and women with disabilities face additional barriers to thriving. Their wage gap is greater. They’re at higher risk of becoming victims of violence. And they face greater challenges accessing health care. These barriers start in childhood, when they are more likely to be bullied by classmates and dismissed by educators. It is no wonder why diverse women are so scarce in our corporate boardrooms, capitol buildings and city halls. While many of us have benefited from the feminist movement, many more of us have been left behind. Now, more than ever, we must be intentional about including women of all backgrounds in our collective voice.”
 

8. What obstacles—if any—did you face when you were elected the first woman in Oregon history to serve as senate majority leader?

“Women are still achieving ‘firsts’ in Oregon, and across the country. I am proud to have held the position as the first female majority leader. But, frankly, it means more to me that I am only the second female governor in Oregon. Firsts are great and they are necessary, but equality is a long game and we have a long way to go. Promoting diversity in politics, and in all of our places of work, is a battle I have been a part of my entire life. I have seen the obstacles lessen in my lifetime but they are far from gone. It is a mantle I take up daily in my administration.”

9. How do you think technology has impacted the ability of lawmakers to engage with constituents, and likewise, citizens to engage with lawmakers?

“Never in our history have citizens had a greater level of direct access to elected officials, and vice versa. This dialogue, an ongoing back and forth between the people and their representatives, has the potential to strengthen our democracy when used responsibly. There’s no better way to reflect the values and beliefs of one’s constituents than knowing exactly where they stand on the issues they find most important.”
 

10. Oregon has had great success with increasing voter participation. In your opinion, what policies should other states be looking at to get more people to the polls?

“I’m very proud of the leadership role Oregon has taken in creating a more open, ultimately a more equal, voting system. We get more people to the polls because, well, we don’t have polls. We have envelopes and mailboxes and ballot drop boxes. This means no one has to take time off of work, find a babysitter, drive across town, take public transit out of their way, or wait in long lines to exercise their right to vote. In many states, voters have to endure all of the above. In Oregon, we encourage voters to look over their pamphlets, engage in conversations with their friends and family in the comfort of their homes, and thoughtfully make their choices before sending off their ballot. This has immensely lowered the barrier to participation. And now we have automatic voter registration, which makes our open voting system yet even more powerful.”