Oregon Cities

4 things to know about Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek’s first year in office

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FILE - Gov. Tina Kotek waves to the crowd after being sworn into office at the Oregon Capitol in Salem, Ore., Jan. 9, 2023.

FILE – Gov. Tina Kotek waves to the crowd after being sworn into office at the Oregon Capitol in Salem, Ore., Jan. 9, 2023.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

Gov. Tina Kotek celebrated her first year in office as the state’s top executive this week.

To mark the milestone, OPB spoke to nearly two dozen politicians, lobbyists, advocates and others paying close attention to the governor to gain a better understanding of what she accomplished in the past 12 months.

Some of her critics were encouraged by what they saw. Others remained pessimistic.

One thing pretty much everyone agrees with: Things are still not working in the state and there is much to be done.

Kotek isn’t deterred.

“All I can hope is that we will continue to communicate over the course of the first term about what we’re doing,” Kotek said in an interview with OPB. “It will be up to voters whether I’ve made the case, but my message is I’m just going to keep working hard.”

OPB offered an in-depth analysis of Kotek’s first year as governor, which we encourage you to read here.

But here is a quick snapshot of four things that stood out to us in Kotek’s first term in the state’s top job.

MODERATION: Kotek sold her longtime home in North Portland and moved to Mahonia Hall, the governor’s mansion in Salem. The liberal politician’s policies also seemingly shifted more to the center in her first year in the executive office; there were times she sounded more like her conservative challengers in the gubernatorial race than the progressive candidate demonized on the campaign trail.

In the past year, she called for loosening the state’s vaunted land-use policies, sent more police to the city of Portland, touted the need for tighter drug laws, passed major business subsidies and called for a freeze on taxes.

Kotek also backs outlawing public drug use around the state and is supporting a law change that would make it easier to prosecute drug dealers.

Related: Measure 110 forced Oregon to build a new addiction services model. Here’s how that’s going

Another notable example: As public support for drug decriminalization flags, Kotek is no longer saying she outright opposes repealing Measure 110.

Kotek said people shouldn’t be surprised by a shift in her tone.

“I think this is about: Can you make stuff work?” she told reporters in December, after a lengthy presentation to state business leaders about a plan to revive downtown Portland. “I am very progressive when it comes to public policy, but I am pragmatic and I’m tired of things not working.”

FOCUS: Kotek won office touting three main issues: the housing and homelessness crisis, behavioral health, and early childhood literacy.

From her first major act as governor — declaring a homelessness emergency — to a pair of announcements last week about expansions to mental health and addiction treatment beds in the state, Kotek has spent the year relentlessly hammering those priorities.

FILE - Newly sworn-in Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek signs three executive orders to combat homelessness at the State Library of Oregon in Salem on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023, her first full day in office. The executive orders declared a homeless emergency in most of the state, increased housing construction targets, and directed state agencies to prioritize reducing homelessness.

FILE – Newly sworn-in Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek signs three executive orders to combat homelessness at the State Library of Oregon in Salem on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023, her first full day in office. The executive orders declared a homeless emergency in most of the state, increased housing construction targets, and directed state agencies to prioritize reducing homelessness.

Claire Rush / AP

This week, she pointed to significant headway on helping those without housing or on the brink of losing their home. Kotek’s office said in her first year as governor, her administration worked with local governments to create more than 1,000 new shelter beds, rehouse 1,293 households who were homeless and prevented another 8,886 households from experiencing homelessness. (Her original emergency order called for creating 600 shelter beds, rehousing 1,200 households and preventing 8,750 households from homelessness.)

On behavioral health, Kotek recently announced the state would pour $25 million into expanding youth mental health services across the state, and that her administration would help buy a hotel in inner Southeast Portland that will be converted into an addiction treatment center.

NOT JUST PORTLAND: In Kotek’s inaugural address, she promised to soften the polarization between urban and rural Oregonians, citing former Republican Gov. Vic Atiyeh as inspiration.

“He, too, was a former legislator with deep knowledge of our state budget,” she said. “… I will endeavor to listen and lead with the same authenticity, compassion and skill that Gov. Atiyeh brought to the job.”

In that spirit, Kotek visited every county in Oregon over the last year. She stopped at a homeless shelter in Cottage Grove, talked to seed farmers in Jefferson County and watched a developer build a home using a 3-D printer in John Day.

Gov. Tina Kotek tours Boardman with local organization Oregon Rural Action on May 3. The group stops near the Port of Morrow, where a recent leak allowed thousands of gallons of wastewater to contaminate the site.

FILE – Gov. Tina Kotek tours Boardman with local organization Oregon Rural Action on May 3.

Monica Samayoa / OPB

Kotek says the tour was a major undertaking, including meetings with around 1,000 people and handwritten thank-you notes sent by the governor afterward. She says the experience was important in helping her understand challenges throughout the state.

“You can’t put a price on just having a deeper understanding of what it means to live in these communities,” she said, recalling talking to people in Prairie City who’d come to see her sign a bill to expand access to a suicide hotline for rural farmers. “You don’t forget that stuff. You don’t forget that importance for people. You don’t get to do that unless you’re out on the road.”

But Rep. Shelly Boshart Davis, R-Albany, said visiting all 36 counties is the minimum expectation for a governor — not something that merits praise.

“That should be obvious,” Boshart Davis said. “You’re the CEO of Oregon.”

FILE - Aimee Kotek Wilson, left, and her wife, Oregon Gov.-elect Tina Kotek, arrive at a press conference on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022 at the Salmon Street Springs in Portland.

FILE – Aimee Kotek Wilson, left, and her wife, Oregon Gov.-elect Tina Kotek, arrive at a press conference on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022 at the Salmon Street Springs in Portland.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

LOW APPROVAL RATINGS: Similar to her predecessor, Gov. Kate Brown, Kotek has one of the lowest approval ratings of any governor, according to the firm Morning Consult.

But given Brown’s many critics, and the historic partisan division within the state, pollsters said Kotek doesn’t shoulder all the blame for her bleak numbers.

Related: After leading Oregon through nonstop crises, Gov. Kate Brown left office with a complicated legacy

At the same time Oregonians’ views of Kotek appear to be dimming, however, their outlook for the state has improved. Recent polling by DHM Research found 34% of those polled think the state is headed in the right direction.

The next three years will dictate whether Kotek can turn the public sentiment in her favor. It will likely hinge on whether there is a visible dent in the state’s housing crisis, how livable downtown Portland is and whether more Oregon students can read at the appropriate grade level.

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