REMARKS AS PREPARED
Governor Kate Brown
Skanner Foundation Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast
January 21, 2019
Good morning. It is my pleasure to join you on this very special day to celebrate the 33rd Annual Skanner Foundation Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast.
Thank you to the Skanner Foundation for continuing the legacy of Dr. King with this event, and through your ongoing work to create a beloved community.
On my desk, so I see it every day, I keep a rock engraved with some words from Dr. King:
“Our lives begin to end when we are silent about the things that matter.”
As your former Secretary of State and as your Governor, I take this statement literally. It is vital to ensure every Oregonian has access to the ballot and their voice is heard.
Dr. King knew that voter access would lead us to a better world. One with more equity, integrity, and fairness.
In 1957, in front of 25,000 activists, who had gathered for the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom, he said:
“Give us the ballot, and we will no longer have to worry the federal government about our basic rights.”
These words ring even more true today. All across the United States restricting access to the ballot is a way to build the power of the already-powerful.
This is true when we fail to speak up, and it’s also true when we are robbed of the ability to by those in power.
North Carolina. Georgia. Texas. Even at the Supreme Court when they gutted the Voting Rights Act.
But, not here.
As Secretary of State, I knew that even in a place like Oregon, which serves as a beacon of hope and progress for many, we couldn’t rest.
That’s why I fought for the passage of automatic voter registration legislation, revolutionizing the way Oregonians register to vote.
Thanks to this historic legislation, we have already seen monumental changes in the faces of our participating voters. We saw turnout from our communities of color increase by 9 percentage points, even as the national average fell 3 points.
And now, we are seeing Oregon’s AVR system being replicated in 17 states across the country, and is being considered by Congress for national implementation.
But we can’t stop here. We need to continue to fight to ensure equal access to the ballot box.
This year, I’m advocating for automatic voter registration expansion to additional state agencies.
After AVR, advocates were knocking on Oregonians’ doors to alert them they had been registered to vote. One door they knocked on belonged to a man named Charles. He was an African-American, disabled veteran who served in both Korea and Vietnam.
Charles had never registered to vote because his commanders had told him that black people shouldn’t.
For years, Charles never voted.
He sacrificed so much for our country, only to be told his voice did not matter.
That his voice. Did. Not. Matter.
Sadly, Charles’ story is so similar to many in our community. There are so many who are told their voices don’t matter.
The Supreme Court sent a similar message when they blocked parts of the Voting Rights Act. Congress sent a similar message with their lack of action. And states are sending a sharp message by preventing communities of color, our low-income communities, and our young people access to the ballot box.
I’m here with a different message, and let me be very clear: No eligible voter should be excluded from voting.
At the end of Dr. King’s “Give us the ballot” speech, he said,
“Keep moving. Let nothing slow you up. Move on with dignity and honor and respectability.”
This is our path forward.
Thanks to automatic voter registration, Charles cast his very first vote in 2016. He didn’t have postage to cast his ballot, but we’re going to fix that with paid postage.
And we can ensure that more stories end like his, too. With dignity, and honor, and respectability. With a voice, and a government that listens.
My dream is that Oregon continues to be a shining beacon of hope. That we ensure equal access to the ballot box, that our Congress takes action to restore the Voting Rights Act, and that every state in the country follows our lead.
Because we’re showing them good things happen when you “Get Stuff Done."