On Friday, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber submitted his resignation letter to Secretary of Kate Brown, a bisexual official who’ll succeed him in accordance with the succession plan under the rules of the state constitution.
As he indicated in his resignation letter, Kitzhaber, who’s embroiled in an influence-peddling scandal involving a criminal investigation against him and his wife, is set to step down on Wednesday. On that day, Brown will be sworn in as governor, marking the first time an openly bisexual person has taken on that role anywhere in the United States.
Denis Dison, interim executive director of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, said his organization, which endorsed Brown in her campaigns for secretary of state in 2008 and 2012, is “excited” about her upcoming distinction.
“This is a difficult moment for Oregonians, but their new governor is a proven and experienced public servant who Victory has been proud to endorse throughout her career in government,” Dison said.
Before first winning election as Oregon secretary of state in 2008, Brown, 54, served for 17 years as a member of Oregon’s House and Senate. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her spouse Dan and has two stepchildren: Dylan and Jessie.
According to the Associated Press, political observers assumed before the scandal unfolded Brown would have made a bid to become Oregon’s governor when Kitzhaber’s term ended in 2018. Her accomplishments as secretary of state include improving to the vote-by-mail system, seeking transparency in government by instituting an online database for campaign finance, and fighting to pass a bill, which ultimately failed in the legislature, that would have registered nearly every Oregon resident to vote by signing them up through driver license records.
Jeana Frazzini, executive director of Basic Rights Oregon, said she was “happy to celebrate” news that Brown would soon become Oregon’s governor.
“From her days in the state legislature and work in the secretary of state’s office and now headed to our state’s highest office, she’s been a tremendous leader who’s served with integrity and worked to ensure equal access for all Oregonians,” Frazzini said.
Prior to his resignation, Kitzhaber had faced calls from senior Democrats to resign his post. This week, Brown, who was attending a conference in D.C. for secretaries of state, flew back to Oregon as calls for Kitzhaber’s resignation continued to grow.
In a statement to OregonLive.com, Brown distanced herself from Kitzhaber, saying she returned because he asked to meet with her, but once they met, he seemed unaware of why she came back.
“He asked me why I came back early from Washington, D.C., which I found strange,” Brown said. “I asked him what he wanted to talk about. The governor told me he was not resigning, after which, he began a discussion about transition.
Calling the situation “bizarre and unprecedented,” Brown said she was prepared to take over the role as Oregon governor should Kitzhaber step down.
“I informed the governor that I am ready, and my staff will be ready, should he resign,” Brown said. “Right now I am focused on doing my job for the people of Oregon.”
Brown won’t be the first member of the LGBT community to serve as governor. That distinction belongs to former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey, who came out as gay in 2004 amid scandal before resigning.
Last year, former Rep. Mike Michaud, who’s gay, sought to win election as governor of Maine, but lost to incumbent Tea Party Gov. Paul LePage. Had Michaud succeeded, he would have made him the first person to win election to a governor’s office while being openly LGBT.
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, heaped praised on Brown upon news she would become the nation’s first openly bisexual governor.
“Few are better prepared to lead the great state of Oregon than Kate Brown,” Griffin said. “She’s a known commodity to Oregonians with a distinguished record of service of over two decades. And while she’ll make history as the nation’s first sitting LGBT governor, the more important truth is that she’s supremely capable of leading the state to better days ahead.”