By Tom Kelly (Guest Columnist), September 26, 2016 The Oregonian
There is a sticker in the shape of a running shoe on the car in front of me at the coffee drive-through. It says, “I run like a girl. Try and keep up.”
It suddenly crystallized for me what the media is missing in its coverage of Oregon’s governor’s race: fairness.
Gov. Kate Brown’s first 18 months in office have been extraordinary. After her predecessor resigned in scandal, she was thrust into a contentious legislative session already underway.
She rose to the occasion. In that session, she championed and passed a first-in-the-nation law to register voters automatically at the DMV — eliminating the biggest obstacle to participation in our democracy. Soon after, California, Vermont and West Virginia followed Brown’s lead.
In the same hectic legislative session, Brown proposed and passed a package of ethics reforms to restore trust in state government. She signed into law bills reducing community college tuition to as little as $50 a term, cutting greenhouse gas emissions by promoting clean fuel choices and guaranteeing paid sick leave for Oregon workers.
Earlier this year, Brown again led the nation by increasing Oregon’s minimum wage with special consideration for the state’s regional economic differences and eliminating dirty, coal-fired electricity from Oregon’s future.
And just last month, she finally brought to an end the state’s years-long, costly feud with software giant Oracle.
Brown has also stared down an unprecedented number of crises in her short tenure as the state’s chief executive: Record-breaking droughts and forest fires. The worst mass shooting in state history. Extremists occupying the Malheur Wildlife Refuge. And an oil train derailment and fire in the Gorge. The challenges just keep coming at her. Brown has handled each with bold, steady leadership. (Indeed, a Washington Post columnist credited Governor Brown with ending the Malheur standoff — an observation notably absent in our state’s own print media.)
Given this record, I am surprised to hear repeated criticisms that Brown is indecisive or weak or lacking leadership. I have begun to wonder: are we holding Kate Brown to an unfair, double standard?
An Oregonian editorial from April expressed “disappointment” in Brown’s “lackluster leadership” (4/28/16). One of many, the Oregonian has hammered this theme again and again. In one case, it belittled Brown’s leadership on transportation as “sloganeering” because she refuses to repeal one of her signature achievements — the clean fuels law (7/14/16). That was Brown drawing a clear line in the sand — refusing to bend on a point of principle is leadership.
The Oregonian isn’t alone in its unfair portrayals of Oregon’s second woman governor. A recent Willamette Week article about Brown’s decision to fire her campaign manager commented that the incident “raises questions about Brown’s willingness to confront personnel conflicts and divisive issues.” Huh? Isn’t this the same governor who, the Oregonian reported, asked her first chief of staff to resign (11/20/15) and has changed leadership at 14 state agencies.
From what I have observed, Brown exhibits the finest leadership qualities of strong women. She doesn’t bluster. She doesn’t fire first, aim second. She works quietly to consult all sides before announcing a position on contentious issues. She builds relationships across the aisle, demonstrating she values a multitude of voices.
She is true to who she is and has always been — a champion for those without a voice in the policy-making process.
While some in Oregon express longing for the days of the Malboro Man, Brown is inspiring the nation with an impressive and growing list of accomplishments other states only dream of, whether or not Oregon’s predominantly white and male-led media organizations give her credit.
Ladies and gentlemen, our governor runs like a girl. Try and keep up.
– Tom Kelly is president of Neil Kelly Company of North Portland.