January 9, 2023
Good afternoon. It’s wonderful to see you all.
Today is a day to recognize everyone who voted in last November’s election. For the first time ever, Oregon had the highest voter turnout rate in the nation. That is a credit to the strength of our democracy, and a credit to Oregonians — no matter who you voted for.
I would also like to thank my predecessor, Governor Kate Brown. In addition to leading our state through very difficult times, she led with a deep love for our state and compassion for everyday Oregonians. Thank you, Governor Brown for your leadership.
I’d also like to thank my wife Aimee, the First Lady of Oregon. Thank you, my love, for all of your support.
I am honored, and humbled, by this opportunity to serve Oregon.
For me, this job will mean waking up, every day, with a mission. My mission, simply put, is to deliver results for Oregonians. To take on our biggest challenges and make things better.
It’s a simple idea – making things better – but as we all know, a difficult thing to achieve.
So, today, in my first remarks as Oregon’s Governor, I want to talk about this possibility – the possibility to be a force for positive change.
My sense of what this possibility means has evolved over the course of my life. I imagine many of you can relate to that.
My grandparents were immigrants. My parents were proud first-generation Americans who believed in hard work and being engaged in their community. My mom — her name was Florence — volunteered at the library in my elementary school. After he retired, my dad, Jerry, volunteered on our local zoning board.
They did what they could to make things better for our family, for our community.
When I was in my twenties, I fought for domestic partnership benefits for faculty and students at the University of Washington.
That was a positive change for couples who had been denied, for too long, the dignity and respect everyone deserves.
When I moved back to Oregon, I found my calling as an advocate for others. I gratefully accepted a job at Oregon Food Bank, inspired by its mission to end hunger. That calling eventually brought me into public service, like many of you in this chamber today.
I was honored to spend much of the last decade leading this chamber as Speaker of the House. So, I know that there will be many difficult decisions ahead of you – many competing priorities and complex issues demanding your attention.
Before you take up that work, I ask you to step back and consider our shared mission as public servants:
Making things better for Oregonians.
I recognize that this idea of a “shared mission” might be a tough sell at a time when our politics feel so divisive. But today — this convening of Oregon’s 82nd Legislative Assembly — marks a meaningful transition.
We are moving out of election season, which is ultimately a very public reflection of individual values, and we are moving into the season of governing. Governing is about more than competing values — it’s about serving our people. Not Democrats, Republicans or independents – but parents and children, teachers and students, business owners and workers – families from the Rose City, and families from towns without a stop light. Governing is about serving Oregonians —
And I have heard from people loud and clear: the status quo is not working – and for many Oregonians, it has never worked. I believe that for most of us, this isn’t a partisan issue, or frankly, a criticism of one leader. This concern transcends party lines and county lines and cultural divides. Oregonians in every single corner of our state are demanding better. They want to see the idea of Oregon – Land of Majestic Mountains… Land of Promise – match up with the realities in their everyday lives.
And so do I.
It is my pledge to all Oregonians, including the leaders in this chamber, that I will work every day to turn things around – to be a partner with you in solving problems, big and small. We won’t be perfect, but we will improve every year, so Oregonians can proudly say their state government was there for them.
So here’s how we’re going to do that:
- First, for me, personally, that means strengthening connections with Oregonians from every part of our state so that we can deliver results on issues of shared concern: affordable housing and homelessness, behavioral health and addiction care, and education.
- For the executive branch overall, that means focusing on the basics. I will set clear expectations for agency leaders, and then follow through to make sure we are building systems to do our fundamental job – serving Oregonians – better than ever.
- And finally, for all Oregonians, we must all come together to be part of the solution. I invite everyone listening today to help build the Oregon you want to live in.
Let me expand on these commitments.
First, my personal promise to strengthen connections across the state.
We can only deliver results on our complex problems by listening, digging into the details, and forming solutions together. And by advocating for better results at every level of government. That’s why I pledged to visit every county in Oregon within my first year of office.
Governor Vic Atiyeh made a similar commitment in 1979. Here’s what he said in his inaugural address:
“I have and will continue to listen, and not just only to those people who have the means and the urgency to press their case in Salem. I will go to our people to listen. I will go to every county of this state. I will be in your own communities, not talking
to you, but meeting
with you…. I will listen to you, the elected representatives of our people, and to the many dedicated workers in our government who truly want to serve people. I will listen to all.”
It may surprise some of you to know that Governor Atiyeh, the last Republican to serve in this role, has been a source of inspiration as I prepare to take on this great responsibility. He too was a former legislator with deep knowledge of our state budget. And we are both “firsts” – he, the first elected governor of Arab descent in the United States – and me, the first openly lesbian governor in the United States, along with the new governor of Massachusetts. I will endeavor to listen and lead with the same authenticity, compassion, and skill that Governor Atiyeh brought to this job.
And in that spirit, I launched my One Oregon Listening Tour in Yamhill County a couple of weeks ago. On this visit, and the ones to follow, I want to hear directly from people who are doing the hard work every day to serve their community — especially on issues of shared concern across our state.
One story in particular has stuck with me. During our roundtable on housing and homelessness, we heard from a woman named Rachel, who works at a nonprofit serving survivors of domestic and sexual violence.
Many survivors get to a point where it may not be safe for them to stay another night under the same roof as their abuser. That’s why her nonprofit provides emergency shelter for up to 30 days, so that survivors — most often women with children — have a safe place to stay while they seek more permanent housing.
But in Yamhill County, like most counties in Oregon, affordable housing is extremely hard to come by.
With emotion in her voice, Rachel told us that some survivors end up declining services altogether, because they know that 30 days won’t be enough time to find an affordable, more permanent place to live. And if they can’t find an affordable place to move in to, they could face another impossible choice: either becoming homeless, or going back to their abuser.
Going back… Rachel said… can be even more dangerous than never leaving at all.
We must do better. For the survivors Rachel is serving, for our unsheltered neighbors, for all working families, for the future of our economy and our state – we must take on our housing crisis at the scale needed to solve it.
So, on my first full day in office tomorrow, I’m moving forward on two promises on this front.
First, I am signing an executive order that will address the underlying challenge facing our state: we need more housing.
My executive order will establish an ambitious statewide housing production target of 36,000 new homes per year. That is an 80 percent increase over recent construction trends. Building more housing is key to creating healthier and safer communities and supporting economic growth. I look forward to bringing comprehensive recommendations to this body as soon as possible.
Second, I am declaring a homelessness state of emergency. Our state’s response must meet the urgency of the humanitarian crisis we are facing.
A lot of good work is already underway in communities across our state — and thank you for that. Still, we need everyone to keep bringing forward solutions. To that end, I am proposing an urgent $130 million investment in our communities that will help at least another 1,200 Oregonians who are experiencing unsheltered homelessness move off the streets within a year.
I am urging you, as leaders, to start the legislative session by taking up this investment package as quickly as possible. And believe me, this is only the first step. I look forward to building on this emergency investment with a comprehensive housing and homelessness package by the end of this session.
Together, we can act with the urgency people across our state are demanding. Bold ideas, concrete solutions, disciplined follow through. That’s how we can deliver results.
The second big thing I’m committed to, so we can turn things around, is increased accountability in state government.
This week, I am delivering a new set of expectations to the leaders of every state agency. We need to focus on the basics. As we do that, I want to acknowledge the incredible strain that the pandemic has put on our state government. Our systems have been stress tested under extreme pressure and showed us where we can and must do better.
I am directing agency leadership — with my support — to prioritize customer service. That means being more efficient, more effective, and creating systems that will empower the state’s 42,000 public servants to deliver for Oregonians. So many state employees are working incredibly hard to do their jobs, but struggle because of unnecessary bureaucratic barriers or outdated systems that do not meet the challenges of the day.
Whether you’re going to the DMV, applying for a permit, or starting a new business — our job is to make things work as efficiently as possible. And when your community or your family is facing a crisis — our job is to provide the tools that you need — not barriers that make things harder.
So as we address the very large, complex challenges our state faces — whether it’s housing, behavioral health, or education — we have to put our own house in order too.
My administration will work hard every day to ensure that you have improved access to services when you need them.
Invitation to Help
And, finally, the last commitment — and the big ask of you. Today, I ask all my fellow Oregonians to believe in our state and its future. We need you. True transformation will require each and every one of us to be engaged – and I hope you will hear my call for each of us to act as a force for positive change.
We need you to be a part of the solutions that will make a difference in your life and in your community.
As you know, this upcoming weekend is a weekend of service to commemorate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
This Saturday, my team and I are joining a community cleanup. We’re excited to be out there — not just to pick up trash, but to be in community with each other. To stand shoulder to shoulder with neighbors, doing the work and solving problems on the ground.
So, whether it’s joining a neighborhood clean-up… volunteering at your daughter’s elementary school… serving on a local planning board… taking a shift at your local food pantry… or staying up late to answer a few more constituent emails – that’s making things better.
It will take all of us, doing what we can, to build the Oregon we want to live in.
I’d like to leave you with an idea of what this vision can add up to — with all of us working together to make things better.
Imagine an Oregon where no one has to live in a tent on a sidewalk. Where Oregonians seeking help for a mental health concern or substance use issue 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 every working family has access to affordable child care.
Imagine an Oregon where everyone has financial stability and pathways to greater opportunity. Where all Oregonians feel safe in their homes and communities.
That’s an Oregon worth fighting for – and today is a new beginning. I’m eager to get to work. And I hope you will join me.