Oregon’s new governor to be sworn in, discuss her priorities

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Liberal Democrat Tina Kotek will be sworn in as Oregon’s new governor on Monday, ascending to the state’s highest office after serving a record nine years as state House speaker and becoming one of the first openly elected lesbian governors in the country.

In her inaugural address at the state Capitol in Salem, Kotek is expected to pledge to unite Oregonians after a bitterly fought gubernatorial race — the tightest in a decade — in which Republicans sought to break Democrats’ dominance of the state.

Kotek has said her top priorities will be housing and homelessness, mental health and addiction treatment, and education.

Oregon has struggled for years to address a housing shortage and interwoven homelessness, addiction and mental health crises. Its homeless population has increased by more than 22% since 2020, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. It also has the highest drug addiction rate of any state and ranks last in access to mental health treatment, according to federal data from the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

Kotek will be replacing term-limited Democrat Kate Brown, whose strict coronavirus pandemic measures made her a polarizing figure. The two worked together for years as respective speaker and governor, and they have similar profiles as progressives and open members of the LGBTQ community. But Kotek sought to distance herself from Brown — and her low approval ratings — toward the end of the gubernatorial campaign, casting her predecessor as ineffective on homelessness.

Kotek won Oregon’s three-way race for governor in November after fending off a stiff challenge from a fellow former state representative, Republican Christine Drazan, defeating her by less than four percentage points.

Kotek was a state representative from 2006 until 2022, when she resigned to run for governor. During her time in the Legislature, she became the longest-serving speaker in Oregon history after nine years in the role and cemented her status as a key player in state politics, earning a reputation for cutting deals and muscling bills through the state House.

As speaker, Kotek spearheaded and passed liberal agendas made possible by Democratic supermajorities, including the nation’s first statewide rent control law. She also helped push through gun storage laws, criminal justice reform and paid family leave, among other measures.

Lawmakers also will be sworn in on Monday. Democrats still control both chambers of the Legislature, but they lost their three-fifths supermajority in November’s election.

Kotek joins Maura Healey of Massachusetts as the first openly lesbian elected governors in the country.

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Claire Rush is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Claire on Twitter.

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