Brown ready to focus on major challenges

Hillary Borrud/EO Media Group Gov. Kate Brown touted proposals on ethics, education and transportation during her first state of the state address Friday in Portland.

PORTLAND — Gov. Kate Brown says the most difficult days of her transition to the role of governor are behind her, and she is ready to focus on major policy challenges including transportation, affordable housing and education.

“My sense is, as a state, we’re through the hardest part of this transition,” Brown said Friday during her first state of the state address as governor. “Although there is much still to be done, we are back on track, working together and moving forward.”

The governor also used the speech to highlight ethics reform bills she wants the Legislature to pass this session, in the wake of an influence peddling scandal that enveloped former Gov. John Kitzhaber starting in October. Brown, who was previously secretary of state, took office Feb. 18 after Kitzhaber abruptly resigned.

“And although the circumstances may have been less than ideal, let me just say up front: I didn’t feel like I was thrown into the deep end of the pool,” Brown said. “I dove in.”

Brown’s ethics and transparency reform bills introduced earlier this month would reduce the governor’s power over the state ethics commission, require the first spouse and all the governor’s advisors to file economic interest disclosure forms and initiate an audit of state agencies’ handling of public records requests.

Brown delivered the address during a meeting of the Portland City Club, at the Governor’s Ballroom in the Sentinel Hotel in downtown Portland. The speech was an opportunity for Brown to set out major policy goals for her administration, nearly two months after she was sworn in as governor.

Brown called for lawmakers to send her a transportation funding package by the end of the 2015 legislative session, and said she is “fighting for a seamless education system spanning birth to career.” Oregon needs to control the cost of four-year degrees from the state’s public universities, “so that it’s actually affordable for Oregonians, not just Californians,” Brown said.

The governor talked of her travels to rural areas of the state and the issues she views as important to Oregonians outside the I-5 corridor. She restated her support for the creation of a more than $50 million water development fund, which was initially proposed by Kitzhaber and could help irrigators and conservationist reach a deal in the Umatilla Basin. And Brown recounted how she signed an agreement last month for the state to conserve greater sage grouse habitat.

“As of today, I have visited eight communities in eastern, central and southern Oregon and the mid-Willamette Valley,” Brown said.

Kitzhaber and former first lady Cylvia Hayes face federal and state criminal investigations into allegations they used their public positions to benefit Hayes’ consulting business. Kitzhaber has maintained that he is innocent. Due to the timing of Kitzhaber’s resignation, there will be an election in 2016 to determine who will serve the final two years as governor, before the regular 2018 gubernatorial election. Brown has not said whether she will seek election in 2016, although she was previously widely discussed as a potential candidate in 2018.

The Capital Bureau is a collaboration between EO Media Group and Pamplin Media Group.

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