Tina Kotek Sworn in as First Lesbian Governor of Oregon

Tina Kotek
Tina Kotek

Tina Kotek was sworn in as Oregon’s governor Monday, becoming, with Massachusetts’s Maura Healey, one of the first two out lesbian governors in the nation. Healey took her oath of office last week.

Kotek, a Democrat, was sworn in by Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice Meagan Flynn shortly before 2 p.m. at a joint session of the Oregon House and Senate at the state’s capitol. The new governor was accompanied by her wife, Aimee Wilson, and gave her a shout-out after taking the oath, 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 speaker of the Oregon House, the first lesbian to hold such a position in the U.S., and she was also the longest-serving speaker in Oregon history. As governor, she succeeds fellow Democrat Kate Brown, who was the first out bisexual governor in the nation.

In her inaugural address, Kotek thanked Brown for leading the state through a difficult time and went on to cite Oregon’s last Republican governor, Victor G. Atiyeh, who served from 1979 to 1987. He, like Kotek, pledged to visit every county in Oregon and listen to people’s concerns. It might be surprising for her to invoke a Republican as an inspiration, she said, but she pointed out what they have in common: He was also a former legislator, and they were both firsts — he was the first governor of Arab descent in the U.S., and she and Healey are the first out lesbian governors.

Kotek began her listening tour a few weeks ago in Yamhill County in western Oregon. “I want to hear directly from people who are doing the hard work every day to serve their communities, especially on issues of shared concern across our state,” she said.

She promised to address the most pressing issues facing Oregon, including homelessness, a lack of affordable housing, and the need for access to behavioral health care. “We won’t be perfect, but we will improve every year, so Oregonians can proudly say their state government was there for them,” she said.

She said that Tuesday, her first day in office, she will issue an order setting ambitious goals for creation of new housing. It will establish a statewide housing target of more than 36,000 new homes per year, an 80 percent increase over recent construction rates, she said. She will also declare a homelessness state of emergency, she said. “Our state’s response must meet the urgency of the humanitarian crisis we are facing,” she noted. She will propose at least a $130 million investment to help at least 1,200 unhoused Oregonians move off the streets within a year. “This is only the first step,” she added.

She is delivering a new set of expectations to all state agencies, calling for improved 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 these goals a reality, starting with the upcoming weekend of service to commemorate the life and legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. “It will take all of us, doing what we can, to build the Oregon we want to live in,” she said.

“Imagine an Oregon where no one has to live in a tent on a sidewalk,” she said. “Where Oregonians who need help for a mental health concern or a 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. And imagine an Oregon where everyone has financial stability and pathways to greater opportunities. And all Oregonians feel safe in their homes and communities.”

“That’s an Oregon worth fighting for,” she finished. “And today is a new beginning.”