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SALEM, Ore. (The Advocate) – Tina Kotek was sworn in as Oregon’s governor Monday, becoming one of the nation’s first two lesbian governors, along with Maura Healey of Massachusetts. Healey was sworn in last week.
Kotek, a Democrat, administered the oath of office to Oregon Chief Justice Meagan Flynn shortly before 2 p.m. at a joint session of the Oregon House and Senate at the state capitol. The new governor was accompanied by her wife, Aimee Wilson, who gave her a shout-out after she was sworn in, calling Wilson the “first lady of Oregon” and adding, “Thank you, my love, for your support.
Kotek defeated Republican Christine Drazan and independent Betsy Johnson in November. Kotek was previously the speaker of the Oregon House, the first lesbian to hold such a position in the US, and she was also the longest-serving speaker in Oregon history. As governor, she succeeds fellow Democrat Kate Brown, who was the nation’s first bisexual governor.
In her inaugural address, Kotek thanked Brown for leading the state through a difficult period and went on to quote Oregon’s last Republican governor, Victor G. Atiyeh, who served from 1979 to 1987. Like Kotek, he pledged to visit every county in Oregon and listen to concerns people. It might be surprising for her to use a Republican as inspiration, but she pointed out what they have in common: He was also a former lawmaker, and they were both firsts — he was the first Arab governor in the U.S., and she and Healey are the first lesbian governors.
Kotek began her listening tour a few weeks ago in Yamhill County in western Oregon. “I want to hear directly from the people who do the hard work every day to serve their communities, especially on issues of common concern across our state,” she said.
She promised to address the most pressing issues facing Oregon, including homelessness, the lack of affordable housing and the need for access to behavioral health care. “We’re not going to be perfect, but we’re going to get better every year, so Oregonians can be proud to say their state government is here for them,” she said.
She said she would issue an order on Tuesday, her first day in office, that would set ambitious goals for creating new housing. It will set a national housing target of more than 36,000 new homes a year, an 80 percent increase over recent building times, she said. It will also declare a homelessness emergency, she said. “Our state’s response must match the urgency of the humanitarian crisis we face,” she noted. It will propose an investment of at least $130 million to help at least 1,200 homeless Oregonians get off the streets in one year. “This is just the first step,” she added.
It brings a new set of expectations to all state agencies and calls for better customer service and increased accountability. “Our job is to make things work as efficiently as possible,” she said.
She concluded by calling on all Oregonians to join in making those goals a reality, starting with this coming weekend’s service commemorating the life and legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. , to build the Oregon we want to live in,” she said.
“Imagine an Oregon where no one has to live in a tent on the sidewalk,” she said. “Where Oregonians who need mental health or substance abuse help can find and afford the support they need. Imagine an Oregon where every child has a safe place to receive a high-quality public education, and where every working family has access to affordable child care. And imagine Oregon, where everyone has financial stability and pathways to greater opportunities. And all Oregonians feel safe in their homes and communities.”
“This is Oregon worth fighting for,” she finished. “And today is a new beginning.
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