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Oregon Gov.-elect Tina Kotek promises more attention to economic problems and accountability within state agencies

Tina Kotek takes the podium at the Democratic Party of Oregon’s election night event, held Nov. 8, 2022 at the Hyatt Regency Portland.
Jonathan Levinson
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Tina Kotek takes the podium at the Democratic Party of Oregon’s election night event, held Nov. 8, 2022 at the Hyatt Regency Portland.

Kotek outlined her economic agenda to a group of business, civic and elected leaders on Monday, many of whom have been skeptical of Democratic leadership and worked to elect her opponents.

In her first significant speech as governor-elect, Tina Kotek immediately addressed the obvious: People are not happy.

“Our state faces many major challenges,” Kotek said at the Oregon Business Plan’s annual leadership summit in Portland on Monday.

Kotek outlined her economic agenda to a group of business, civic and elected leaders, many of whom have been skeptical of Democratic leadership and worked to elect her opponents.

The governor-elect promised to focus her energy on some of the most pressing challenges facing the state: rising housing costs and homelessness, a lack of access to mental health and addiction services and helping the state’s poorly-performing public school system improve.

Near the tail end of her campaign for governor, Kotek spent significant energy trying to distinguish herself from her predecessor Gov. Kate Brown, who has been criticized by even her allies as not being aggressive enough on the state’s most urgent problems. The speech on Monday seemed to continue that effort.

Kotek said she would work to build trust across the state, increase accountability within the state’s agencies and encourage more partnerships between the government and businesses run by the private sector.

The soon-to-be governor has already met with Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler to discuss housing and homelessness and pledged to meet with him every two weeks. She also told business leaders she plans to meet regularly with Multnomah County Chair-elect Jessica Vega Pederson.

“Our entire state benefits when Portland is healthy and economically thriving,” she said. “The metro region is facing serious challenges — and I will not be hands off while local families and businesses struggle.”

Despite being from Portland and pledging to focus on the state’s biggest city, Kotek promised to travel to every county in Oregon her first year in office, starting with Yamhill and Douglas counties.

The former House speaker also addressed one of the larger complaints the business community has expressed for years: state agencies that struggle to effectively help Oregonians.

“Public services also means customer service, and that must be the focus of everything we do at the state. Public service is about getting Oregonians what they need,” Kotek said. “Whether it was fighting daily to help people get unemployment benefits in the first months of the pandemic — or being angry about the disparate impacts of COVID in our communities — or seeing, day in and day out, our collective failure to help our unhoused neighbors. These are the reasons I ran.”

Kotek said she views her role, in part, as the CEO of state government, managing 42,000 employees, and she said she plans to spend more time with agency leaders to ensure her expectations are known. The day she is sworn in, she said, she will also release a list of expectations she has of state agencies, and she pledged to follow through to ensure there is accountability.

As governor, Kotek promised to focus on the homeless and housing crises facing the state. The only way to address those issues, she said, is by cultivating private/public partnerships.

In addition to housing, she said, she plans to work with the private sector on three priorities; the first is early learning and childcare.

“I’ve heard from working parents, business leaders and child care providers all over the state: The lack of affordable child care is a huge problem that is holding back too many families and businesses,” Kotek said.

Second, Kotek and her team will focus on ensuring federal dollars, through the Inflation Reduction Act and the Infrastructure and Jobs Act, are leveraged in Oregon to create new jobs, help mitigate climate change, help the state’s semiconductor industry grow and invest more dollars in the state economies. And finally, she pledged to continue to bolster the state’s trade opportunities with places like Asia. Gov. Brown recently returned from a trade mission in Asia to promote the state’s agricultural industry and to work to expand the semiconductor industry.

“It’s quite a to-do list,” Kotek said.

But, she said, “Oregonians don’t back down when things get hard. We dig in, we think outside the box, and we get the job done.”

Copyright 2022 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Lauren Dake is a political reporter and producer for Oregon Public Broadcasting. Before OPB, Lauren spent nearly a decade working as a print reporter. She’s covered politics and rural issues in Oregon and Washington.