Kotek pledges to visit all counties in first year as governor
Tina Kotek plans to visit all of Oregon's 36 counties during her first year as governor.
She already plans meetings in Yamhill and Douglas counties before she is sworn in on Jan. 9.
She spoke Monday, Dec. 12, at the 20th annual Oregon Business Plan summit, sponsored by the Oregon Business Council and others at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland.
"I ask everyone here today, no matter who you supported during campaign season, to believe in our state and its future," she said. "Please be engaged so we can rebuild trust and solve problems together.
Kotek announced the series of visits as part of a three-pronged effort to reunite Oregon and show progress on key issues after a divisive campaign. The Democratic nominee won 47% statewide, Republican Christine Drazan, 43.5%, and nonaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson 8.6% in the Nov. 8 election. Two minor-party candidates got the rest.
Kotek won just seven counties, though three of Oregon's five most populous were among them.
"As you heard, building trust is going to be important," she told reporters afterward. "That means showing up in communities, starting with issues of shared concern … Those are things we all agree on that are issues, and that we want to make sure we see progress on. I've got to go out and prove myself to some folks, and we're going to do that."
Kotek said her other steps are to lay out specific expectations for state agencies and develop more partnerships with the private sector and agreements between governments.
For partnerships, she specified child care, international trade, and opportunities for federal grants for public works, carbon-free energy and semiconductor manufacturing and scientific research.
The latter was a major focus of the summit in the aftermath of a task force co-led by outgoing Gov. Kate Brown, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden and Maria Pope, chief executive of Portland General Electric. Their report offered recommendations for preparation of more industrial sites that can accommodate manufacturing and incentives to secure federal grants under the CHIPS and Science Act that Congress passed last summer.
Kotek said she will meet regularly with Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Jessica Vega Pederson, the incoming elected chair of Multnomah County government.
"Our entire state benefits when Portland is healthy and economically thriving," said Kotek, who represented a North/Northeast Portland district in the Oregon House for 15 years. "The metro region is facing serious challenges. I will not be hands-off while local families and businesses struggle."
She said she expects agencies will improve customer service, She said she will have more specific expectations for agencies that have a direct bearing on her immediate priorities. But she declined afterward to respond to questions about which agencies might get new leaders.
There is already a major vacancy. Patrick Allen has announced he will resign as director of the Oregon Health Authority, a target of Kotek's past criticism, the same day that Kotek becomes governor.
Her immediate priorities for her first year remain unchanged from Nov. 10, when she first spoke as governor-elect: Housing and homelessness; mental health and addiction treatment, and "successful schools."
"The three of us who ran for governor all agreed on issues. Who had the best plan and the best ability to solve them is what voters came down to deciding," she said. "I am sure in the course of these sessions, I will hear about other things as well. It's important to be in people's communities and to hear what their concerns are."
Kotek talked for just 12 of the 30 minutes she was scheduled for her keynote remarks. But for nine years, she has taken part as House speaker in previous Oregon Business Plan summits.
On steps toward "successful schools" — she did not offer specifics on Nov. 10 — Kotek said she wants immediate attention on helping young students achieve third-grade reading levels. Reading scores released nationally in October showed that Oregon students had greater declines than the national average and in Washington state, likely resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.
Kotek also called for increased tutoring and an expanded summer school program that covers instruction and activities. While she was House speaker in 2021, Kotek helped steer a multimillion-dollar package of aid for a range of summer programs.
"We have to do some new things if we are going to get students back on track," she said.
During her talk, Kotek said state leaders must go beyond defining success as passage of new laws or increased spending:
"The real victory doesn't come until the working mom enrolls her kid in an affordable child care program, until the veteran living on the street moves into permanent housing, or until the student who's been struggling to read knows the satisfaction of finishing her first book.
"To fix things, we need to get back to basics. Oregon is counting on us."
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