Who Is Kate Brown? A Progressive Governor Who's Been Dealt A Strong Hand

On Wednesday morning, the state of Oregon will finally turn the page on the scandal-rocked, seemingly ethically challenged administration of former four-term Democratic governor John Kitzhaber, and welcome a new face as their state's leader — former Secretary of State Kate Brown, who'll get two years at the top job until facing a special election in 2016. With that challenge just two years away, it's worth getting a little familiar with her history. In other words: Who is Kate Brown?

There's one aspect of Brown's career and legacy that's gotten a lot of press recently, owing to the historic nature of her ascension — she's going to be the first openly bisexual governor in United States history. But sexual identity alone doesn't tell you anything decisive about somebody's ability to run a state, so it might be good to look a little deeper into Brown's career, and accomplishments

After all, as the Washington Post's Hunter Schwartz observes, she's likely to stick in the job for a while. Oregon hasn't actually elected a Republican to the governorship in a staggering 37 years, its voting trends gripped by the deep-blue, left-wing city of Portland. In other words, she's got a shot to lead the state for a while, if she can wash off some of that post-Kitzhaber stink before 2016.

Brown, now 54, was born in Spain in 1960, a result of her father's service abroad in the United State Air Force. She moved back to America at a young age, growing up in the often-frigid wilds of Minnesota before making her way out to Oregon, where she received a doctorate in law from Portland's venerable Lewis and Clark College.

Her legislative career began back in 1991, when she entered the Oregon House of Representatives under circumstances that must seem very familiar to her now — she was ushered in thanks to an unanticipated vacancy, kicking off a six-year stint in the state's lower legislative chamber.

In 1997, she made the jump to the state Senate, where her standing within the party escalated dramatically — according to her official Secretary of State website (which is going to be obsolete very soon), she was named Senate Democratic leader in 1998, her first year. By the time 2004 rolled around, she secured yet another historic achievement, becoming the first woman to serve as the Senate Majority Leader. Like, imagine if Mitch McConnell were a progressive, openly LGBT rising star instead of, well, Mitch McConnell.

She ultimately passed on running for a third state senate term, leaving her seat in 2008 to run for Oregon Secretary of State. She won that election, and successfully defended it in 2012 against Republican challenge Knute Buehler. That 2012 victory was a tumultuous one, as Brown suffered her own political pitfalls — as detailed by CBS News, her stewardship over the 2012 labor commissioner's election drew sharp criticism, with The Oregonian (as well as a host of other newspapers) declining to endorse her.

She still beat Buehler out, though, and as it turns out that was unforeseeably huge. There's no lieutenant governor in Oregon, the Secretary of State is next in line to take over. If Buehler had managed to defeat Brown, he'd be ascending to the governorship today, bringing a Republican to the top of the notoriously blue state. But instead, we get a groundbreaking Democrat who's actually got the chance to be around for a while — not too shabby, huh?

That's not to say there aren't criticisms of Brown from a left-leaning perspective, however. As CBS News notes, she backed Comcast's acquisition of Time Warner Cable in January, a move many Democrats regard as harmful to consumers. This came after she'd accepted nearly $10,000 in campaign donations from the cable giant — not exactly big money by major party political standards, but a price paid nonetheless.

Being a legislator or a Secretary of State is a hugely different role from helming the entire state, however, and now Brown will be writing the biggest new chapter of her career. Hopefully we'll all have a pretty good idea what kind of governor she is by the time 2016 rolls around — she's slated to be sworn in at 10 a.m. Wednesday morning, which is to say right about now.