With Kitzhaber resignation, bike advocates upbeat about incoming Gov. Kate Brown

kate brown at portland society
Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown at a
2011 fundraiser for the Portland Society Fund, which
supports “emerging leaders in active transportation.”
(Photo: M.Andersen)

Oregon’s next governor rides a tandem.

While we’ve been hurrying around Southwest Portland this week, we’ve been keeping half an eye on the drama unfolding in Salem. In the wake of Willamette Week’s report Thursday that Gov. John Kitzhaber unsuccessfully tried to get state employees to block release of thousands of his emails amid a criminal investigation of the overlaps between his public role and his fiance’s business, the governor has resigned and Secretary of State Kate Brown will be moving into the job.

According to her 2012 election registration, Brown lives with her husband in a 1914 home in Southeast Portland’s Woodstock neighborhood.

We’ve been asking local biking advocates what they know about Brown. Here’s the word from Ellee Thalheimer, a bike tourism writer and organizer of the Portland Society, a professional group for women passionate about biking:

I’ve known Kate for over a decade. … She and her husband ride a tandem. They’ve done the Bridge Pedal in the past. …. I don’t remember talking about transportation policy with Kate and only casually about cycling. As a friend, she’s always been supportive of my cycling-related projects, like the Portland Society and the Cycling Sojourner books. I can say that her husband Dan is one bad ass bike commuter. Kate becoming governor would be one of the best things to happen to Oregon in a long time. When I think about Kate, I think about someone who works their fingers to the bone and someone with unshakable integrity.

This is from attorney Mark Ginsberg, a specialist in bicycling-related injury lawsuits:

When she was a state senator she was the cyclist in the old BTA bike/bus/car challenge. I rode along with her, and was impressed that she was an actual cyclist.

she is a progressive democrat with a killer political instinct. I like her personally too!


This is from Lisa Marie White, co-chair of the Bike Walk Vote political action committee, on Thursday afternoon:

There isn’t a ton known about Kate’s leanings in regards to active transportation, other than her support for Tilikum, which is a positive sign (though may have no actual bearing on her bike-specific support). The only thing certain about Kate is she’s politically savvy, she wants to be governor and has for some time, and her donors and supporters (and potential donors/supporters) can have great influence over her legislative priorities. We’re doing some major R&D on her donor base over the years.

White refers here to the Tilikum Crossing, the bridge about to open as part of TriMet’s new Orange Line. Former TriMet lobbyist Olivia Clark called Brown’s support “essential” in sending $250 million of state lottery funding to that project, back when Brown served as majority leader of the state senate. It was the bill that made the rail line, and therefore the new bridge, possible.

Roger Averbeck, transportation chair of Southwest Neighborhoods Inc.:

I knew Kate and Dan long before they went political. … I’ve been to her house and had barbecues in the backyard. … She was very supportive of the vulnerable road user law when that got passed several years ago.

Here’s Scott Bricker, the former Bicycle Transportation Alliance executive director and political director now serving as executive director of America Walks:

Secretary of State Kate Brown has long been a supporter of bicycling, walking and livable community design. As a Senator, her offices worked with the BTA to support legislative efforts on this behalf. In fact I recently received a notecard from her, stating that she pleased to hear about my role at America Walks and importance of the work.

As Oregon’s secretary of state since 2008, Brown hasn’t been much involved in transportation policy for years, focusing instead on issues like elections, campaign finance and business and voter registration. In all, she’s popped up on BikePortland twice before:

Brown, who has an environmental conservation degree from the University of Colorado and a law degree from Lewis and Clark Law School, also earned decent but not stellar marks from the Oregon League of Conservation Voters: 67 percent in 2003, 67 percent in 2005, 89 percent in 2007.

As we head into a crucial legislative session for transportation issues, Brown will have plenty of opportunities to make her positions known. After that she’s likely to face voters in 2016, the next statewide general election, for the right to serve out Kitzhaber’s full term. Under Oregon’s gubernatorial term limits, she’d then be eligible for reelection in 2018, though not in 2022.

She definitely won’t be Oregon’s first biking governor, though.

Jonathan Maus contributed reporting to this post.

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