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Q&A – Kate Brown

Governor of Oregon, US

Kate Brown’s cosy private office looks much as one might expect of a governor’s den in the woodsy Pacific Northwest. Amid dark-panelled walls she proudly displays Oregon-brewed beer and a kitschy hand-carved wooden salmon. The office’s occupant, however, is more of a surprise. The 56-year-old Democrat, in her first term, leads one of the US’s most liberal states: Oregon finds itself at odds with Donald Trump’s administration on climate, immigration and healthcare, among other issues. The folk music-loving Portlander could be the macho president’s personal antithesis as well: she largely built her political career after coming out as bisexual and is one of a cadre of female leaders in the state. As her party struggles to rebuild at every level, Brown’s attributes are attracting national attention.

Monocle: With the gop under federal control, what is a liberal state’s role?
Kate Brown: I see liberal states as the Petri dishes of progressive policy. We’re innovating. I like to say we can “GSD” – get stuff done – at the state level where obviously Congress and the federal government have struggled to act.

M: Can states and cities make a difference on climate?
KB: We’re going to – that’s the reality. Oregon is committed to reducing greenhouse emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. In 2015 we saw devastating wildfires; that will be the norm by 2040. We have to be prepared and adaptive.

M: The New Yorker called you “America’s radical feminist governor”. How do feminism and being the nation’s first serving lgbt governor inform your day-to-day work?
KB: I’m certainly a lifelong feminist; I don’t know if you’d put me in the “radical” category. On the other hand we have four women governors in the US and, of the four, I’m probably at the more radical end of the spectrum. Most of my gubernatorial colleagues don’t know what it’s like to get paid less than a co-worker. I also remember being afraid that I was going to lose my job because I was in a relationship with a woman. That’s why I feel so strongly about fighting for Oregon as a place for everyone.

M: Oregon calls itself a “sanctuary” state. Does that have practical weight?
KB: First, it sends a strong message that we want to welcome immigrants and refugees. So that’s one piece. The other is law enforcement. We passed a sanctuary statute in 1987. That helped us, now, draft an executive order that prevents state agencies from treating undocumented immigrants as criminals on the basis of immigration status. That tells state workers that they’re going to be part of the solution, not part of creating fear.

M: Oregon saw large post-inaugural protests. What else should US progressives be doing?
KB: People might be surprised that one of the things I care most about is rural economic development. We’ve seen growth in Portland and other urban areas but people in Pendleton and Burns should be able to find jobs that allow them to raise families. We need to find a message that resonates in both urban and rural communities.


Rogues' gallery

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