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Kate Brown
Gov Kate Brown 2021.jpg
Brown in 2021
38th Governor of Oregon
In office
February 18, 2015 – January 9, 2023
Preceded by John Kitzhaber
Succeeded by Tina Kotek
24th Secretary of State of Oregon
In office
January 5, 2009 – February 18, 2015
Governor Ted Kulongoski
John Kitzhaber
Preceded by Bill Bradbury
Succeeded by Jeanne Atkins
Member of the Oregon Senate
from the 21st district
In office
January 13, 1997 – January 2, 2009
Preceded by Shirley Gold
Succeeded by Diane Rosenbaum
Member of the Oregon House of Representatives
from the 13th district
In office
November 26, 1991 – January 12, 1997
Preceded by Judy Bauman
Succeeded by Dan Gardner
Personal details
Katherine Brown

(1960-06-21) June 21, 1960 (age 64)
Torrejón de Ardoz, Spain
Political party Democratic
Spouse Dan Little
Children 2 stepchildren
Education University of Colorado, Boulder (BA)
Lewis and Clark College (JD)

Katherine Brown (born June 21, 1960) is an American politician and attorney who served as the 38th governor of Oregon from 2015 to 2023. A member of the Democratic Party, she served three terms as the state representative from the 13th district of the Oregon House of Representatives from 1991 to 1997, three terms as the state senator from the 21st district of the Oregon Senate from 1997 to 2009, three terms as majority leader of the Oregon Senate from 2003 to 2009, and two terms as Oregon Secretary of State from 2009 to 2015. She assumed the governorship upon the resignation of John Kitzhaber in 2015. She was elected to serve out the remainder of his gubernatorial term in the special election in 2016 and was reelected to a full term in 2018.

As an openly bisexual woman, Brown has made history several times through her electoral success. In 2008, she became the first openly LGBT person elected secretary of state within a U.S. state, and the first openly LGBT person elected to statewide office in any U.S. state. In 2016, she became the first openly LGBT person elected governor of a U.S. state and the second woman elected governor of Oregon (after Barbara Roberts). By the end of her term, Brown had the lowest approval ratings of any incumbent U.S. governor at that time.

Early life and education

Brown was born in Torrejón de Ardoz in Spain, where her father, Dr. James Paterson Brown, an eye doctor, was serving in the United States Air Force, at Torrejón Air Base. She grew up in Minnesota and graduated from Mounds View High School in Arden Hills, Minnesota in 1978. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Conservation with a certificate in women's studies from the University of Colorado Boulder in 1981 and a J.D. degree and certificate in environmental law from the Lewis & Clark College Law School in 1985.


Oregon Legislative Assembly

Kate Brown cropped
Brown in 2008

Brown was appointed to the Oregon House of Representatives in 1991, filling a vacancy in a Portland seat left by predecessor Judy Bauman, who took an executive appointment. She was elected to a second term before being elected to the Oregon State Senate in 1996. Two years later, she was elected Senate Democratic Leader. In 2003, she was elected Majority Leader of the Oregon Senate.

Brown was a top fundraiser for her caucus, helping the Democrats tie the Republicans in the Oregon Senate in 2003. That same year she also won the position of caucus leader. Brown helped round up votes to pass a bill that year reforming the Oregon Public Employees Retirement System, although she ultimately voted against it to preserve her relationship with labor unions.

In July 2007, Brown announced that she would give up her seat in the Oregon Senate to be a candidate for Oregon Secretary of State the next year. On May 20, 2008, Brown won the election for the Democratic nomination for Secretary of State, and on November 5 she won the general election by a 51–46% margin against Republican candidate Rick Dancer.

Oregon Secretary of State

Coming into office, one of Brown's priorities was to perform rigorous performance audits to help balance the budget. In 2008, for every dollar the State spent, performance audits returned $8 in cost savings. In 2010 Brown reported she delivered $64 in cost savings and efficiencies for every dollar invested in the Division.

In 2009 Brown introduced and passed House Bill 2005 to crack down on fraud and abuse in the initiative and referendum system. It gave the Secretary of State more power to prosecute fraud and enforce the constitutional ban on paying per signature on initiatives.

Kate Brown accepts an award
Brown accepting an award from the Oregon National Guard, June 2014

Brown also implemented online voter registration. As of March 2010, a year after its introduction, Oregon Public Broadcasting noted nearly 87,000 Oregonians had already registered online to vote.

In 2009 the Aspen Institute named Brown as one of 24 "Rising Stars" in American politics and awarded her a Rodel Fellowship. The program is a two-year fellowship designed to break down partisan barriers and explore the responsibilities of public leadership and good governance.

In October 2012 StateTech magazine highlighted Brown's use of iPad and tablet technology to increase accessibility for voters with disabilities. In 2011 Oregon became the first jurisdiction in the country to use this technology to help voters with disabilities mark their ballots.

In January 2015 Brown submitted a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in support of the purchase of Time Warner Cable by Comcast that had been almost entirely ghostwritten by Comcast, a company that has made a total of over $10,000 in donations to her past election campaigns.

Governor of Oregon

On February 18, 2015, Governor John Kitzhaber resigned amid a public corruption scandal just three months after his reelection; Brown succeeded him since the Constitution of Oregon identifies the secretary of state as the successor when the governor leaves office prematurely.

Brown named Brian Shipley, a lobbyist for Oregon Health & Science University and former deputy chief of staff to Governor Ted Kulongoski, as her chief of staff. She appointed Jeanne Atkins secretary of state.

Upon taking office, Brown extended the moratorium on executions Kitzhaber had enacted. In 2015, she also signed a "motor voter" bill she had championed while secretary of state, to automatically register voters using their driver's license data. At Politico's "State Solutions" voter engagement conference, Brown said, "Registration is a barrier to people participating in this process" and "Voting is a fundamental right of being a citizen, and people across the country should have the ability to access this fundamental right without barriers like registration". Addressing critics of policies aimed at increasing voter turnout, such as Oregon's "motor voter" law, she said, "I think the good news is, in Oregon, we actually want people to vote in our state."

In July 2016 Brown signed HB3402, which raised the maximum speed limit to 70 mph on I-82 and sections of I-84 and US-95. Previously the maximum speed limit on Oregon highways was 65 mph. This bill also raised speed limits on non-interstate highways in eastern Oregon from 55 mph to 65 mph.

Oregon law required a special election in November 2016 for the two years remaining in Kitzhaber's unfinished term as governor. By April 2016 Brown had raised over $800,000 for her campaign in 2016 alone, while her closest Democratic primary competitor, Julian Bell, had raised $33,000. She defeated Bell, Chet Chance, Kevin M. Forsythe, Steve Johnson, and Dave Stauffer for the Democratic nomination. She won the general election against Republican Party nominee Bud Pierce, Independent Party nominee Cliff Thomason, Libertarian Party nominee James Foster, and Constitution Party nominee Aaron Donald Auer, receiving 51% of the vote.

In January 2017, Brown named Nik Blosser her third chief of staff after the resignation of former chief of staff Kristen Leonard. In June 2017, Brown signed into law the Oregon Equal Pay Act, which banned employers from using job seekers' prior salaries in hiring decisions, and a transgender equity bill.

Brown was reelected in November 2018, defeating Republican Knute Buehler 50.0% to 43.9%, with Independent Party nominee Patrick Starnes, Libertarian Party nominee Nick Chen, Constitution Party nominee Aaron Auer, and Progressive Party nominee Chris Henry taking the remaining votes. She had received 82% in the Democratic primary.

In a November 2018 budget plan Brown proposed a 30-year plan to limit Oregon's greenhouse gas emissions via a cap-and-trade system. On June 20, 2019, Brown authorized state troopers to search for and return 11 Republican state senators after the Oregon Senate ordered the Sergeant-at-Arms to compel them to attend a Senate session. The senators had left to prevent a quorum in the Senate and thereby block the passage of a sweeping climate change bill.

In 2019, after a measles outbreak in Oregon, Brown urged parents to vaccinate their children.

In response to the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic, Brown publicly urged Oregonians to stay home to avoid spreading the virus, but was initially criticized for not issuing a shelter-in-place order. The order was officially issued on March 23, 2020.

In August 2021, The Oregonian wrote, "Gov. Kate Brown signed a law to allow Oregon students to graduate without proving they can write or do math."

In December 2022, Brown commuted the sentences of all 17 people on death row in Oregon, calling the death penalty "dysfunctional and immoral" and something that "had never been administered fairly or equitably in Oregon."

2019 recall attempt

In 2019, the Oregon Republican Party and an independent group, "Flush Down Kate Brown", attempted to remove Brown by recall petition, but fell 40,790 signatures short of the required 280,050.

2020 recall attempt

In 2020, Bill Currier, chairman of the Oregon Republican Party and mayor of Adair Village, launched another recall petition. It cited many of the concerns in the 2019 petition in addition to others, mostly focused on her handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in Oregon. Wilsonville activist Kelsey Massey started another petition. One must collect at least 280,050 signatures to trigger a verification process, the first step toward a recall election. On August 31, Currier announced that the recall would not be on the ballot because it had not received enough signatures. For the Massey petition, no signatures were submitted by the July 31 deadline.

Political views

According to Brown, her political philosophy shifted from the time she was first elected to the state legislature to her later public service. "When I became the caucus leader, which was in 1999, I had caucus members from very diverse parts of the state and very diverse perspectives...As the Democratic leader, I realized I represented all of the Democrats in the state, not just from my district. So that was really a shift in thinking," she said.

Brown supports criminal justice reform by opposing mass incarceration and made that a hallmark of her term as governor, commuting the sentences of around 1,100 people during her term.

Personal life

Brown lives with her husband, Dan Little, and has two stepchildren, Dylan and Jessie. She is the country's first openly bisexual statewide office holder and first openly bisexual governor.

Electoral history

Oregon State Senate


Oregon's State Senate 21st District Democratic Primary Election, 2004
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Kate Brown (Incumbent) 13,541 98.81%
write-ins 163 1.19%
Total votes 13,704 100%
Oregon's State Senate 21st District Election, 2004
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Kate Brown (Incumbent) 52,278 86.52%
Libertarian Theresa Reed 4,563 7.55%
Constitution Paul deParrie 3,126 5.17%
write-ins 455 0.75%
Total votes 60,422 100%

Oregon Secretary of State


Oregon Secretary of State Democratic Primary Election, 2008
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Kate Brown 277,853 51.74%
Democratic Rick Metsger 145,820 27.15%
Democratic Vicki Walker 96,835 18.03%
Democratic Paul Damian Wells 14,696 2.74%
write-ins 1,842 0.34%
Total votes 537,046 100%
Oregon Secretary of State Election, 2008
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Kate Brown 873,968 51.00%
Republican Rick Dancer 785,740 45.85%
Pacific Green Seth Alan Woolley 51,271 2.99%
write-ins 2,740 0.16%
Total votes 1,713,719 100%


Oregon Secretary of State Democratic Primary Election, 2012
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Kate Brown (Incumbent) 284,470 91.13%
Democratic Paul Damian Wells 26,177 8.39%
write-ins 1,510 0.48%
Total votes 312,157 100%
Oregon Secretary of State Election, 2012
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Kate Brown (Incumbent) 863,656 51.28%
Republican Knute Buehler 727,607 43.20%
Pacific Green Seth Woolley 44,235 2.63%
Libertarian Bruce Alexander Knight 24,273 1.44%
Progressive Robert Wolfe 21,783 1.29%
write-ins 2,561 0.15%
Total votes 1,684,115 100%

Governor of Oregon


Oregon Gubernatorial Special Democratic Primary Election, 2016
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Kate Brown (Incumbent) 494,890 83.06%
Democratic Julian Bell 49,113 8.24%
Democratic Dave Stauffer 16,108 2.70%
Democratic Steve Johnson 13,363 2.24%
Democratic Kevin Forsythe 10,147 1.70%
Democratic Chet Chance 5,636 0.95%
write-ins 6,595 1.11%
Total votes 595,852 100%
Oregon Gubernatorial Special Election, 2016
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Kate Brown (Incumbent) 985,027 50.62%
Republican Bud Pierce 845,609 43.45%
Independent Cliff Thomason 47,481 2.44%
Libertarian James Foster 45,191 2.32%
Constitution Aaron Donald Auer 19,400 1.00%
write-ins 3,338 0.17%
Total votes 1,946,046 100%


Oregon Gubernatorial Democratic Primary Election, 2018
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Kate Brown (Incumbent) 324,541 81.9%
Democratic Ed Jones 33,464 8.4%
Democratic Candace Neville 29,110 7.4%
write-ins 8,912 2.3%
Total votes 396,027 100%
Oregon Gubernatorial Election, 2018
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Kate Brown (Incumbent) 885,232 50.0%
Republican Knute Buehler 776,558 43.9%
Independent Patrick Starnes 50,879 2.9%
Libertarian Nick Chen 26,587 1.5%
Constitution Aaron Auer 19,645 1.1%
Progressive Chris Henry 10,252 0.6%
Total votes 1,769,153 100%

Awards and distinctions

  • 1995 – Recipient, Woman of Achievement Award from the Oregon Commission for Women
  • 2004 – Recipient, National Public and Community Service Award from the American Mental Health Counselors Association
  • 2007 – Recipient, President's Award of Merit from the Oregon State Bar
  • 2015 – Was listed as one of the nine runners-up for The Advocate's Person of the Year
  • 2017 – Named to the inaugural NBC Out #Pride30 list
  • Profiles in Courage by Basic Rights Oregon

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Kate Brown para niños

  • List of U.S. state governors born outside the United States
  • List of female governors in the United States
  • List of female secretaries of state in the United States
  • List of LGBT people from Portland, Oregon
  • List of openly LGBT heads of government
  • List of the first LGBT holders of political offices in the United States
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