SALEM — Newly minted Gov. Kate Brown said Friday she will pursue the $51.6 million water development fund in former governor John Kitzhaber’s budget targeted to help irrigators and conservationists reach a deal in the Umatilla Basin.
“I anticipate we will maintain that in the budget,” Brown said during her first press conference since being sworn in as governor. “I know how critical it is to the economy in that area, so I look forward to working with folks to make sure we get some more resources into that project.”
Under the Kitzhaber’s proposal, communities around the state could compete for government loans and grants to assist with planning and development of water supply, watershed restoration and other projects.
Oregonians outside the Portland metropolitan area are watching to see how Brown handles issues of importance in their communities. Kitzhaber had proposed spending more than $200 million on projects related to irrigated agriculture, forest products research and sage grouse habitat over the next biennium.
Brown was sworn in as governor on Wednesday, following Kitzhaber’s resignation amid criminal investigations into allegations of influence peddling by the governor and his fiancee, Cylvia Hayes. During the press conference Friday she spoke about Oregon’s death row, ethics reform and fuel standard legislation.
On death row, Brown said she will continue Oregon’s moratorium on executions, a policy initiated in 2011 by Kitzhaber.
Oregon needs to have “a broader discussion” about the death penalty and criminal justice system, the governor said. Kitzhaber put a moratorium on executions in 2011. There are currently 34 people on death row in Oregon.
Brown, who was secretary of state before Kitzhaber’s resignation, said she will announce by March 6 the appointment of a new secretary of state to serve the remainder of her term. The governor deflected a question about whether she will run for election in 2016, saying she needs to focus on the work at hand.
Brown also fielded questions about her proposed ethics and public records reforms, and legislation approved by the state Senate this week that would make permanent Oregon’s low-carbon fuel standard.
Republicans have called for that bill to be put on hold pending investigations of Kitzhaber and Hayes, because some of the groups that paid Hayes for consulting work have also worked on campaigns to support the fuel standard legislation.
Brown declined to say whether she would sign the fuel standard legislation, Senate Bill 324, if it reaches her desk. But she did signal her support.
“In terms of clean fuels, the Legislature passed the original clean fuels bill in 2009,” Brown said. “For me, clean fuels translates into cleaner air for Oregonians. I think that’s a good thing.”
The governor said employees in her administration will not be allowed to receive outside compensation for state business, and she is looking into options to provide more resources and independence to the Oregon Government Ethics Commission. Three members of the ethics commission are direct appointees of the governor, and four are selected by the party caucuses in the Legislature.
Brown said “the governor gets to essentially veto the caucus leaders appointments to the government ethics commission. I think that needs to change.”
Brown, a Democrat, said it is encouraging to see ethics reform proposals from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers.
“I am optimistic this can be a bipartisan effort,” Brown said.
Earlier this week, Rep. Jodi Hack, R-Salem, announced she is working on a concept for legislation to create a process for lawmakers to impeach the governor. Oregon is currently the only state without a process to impeach the state executive, according to a press release from Hack.
If Hack’s proposal passes the state House and Senate, it would then be referred to voters in a general election because it would require an amendment to the Oregon Constitution.
Meanwhile, Brown has also called for the state to strengthen laws “to ensure the timely release of public documents.”
She said on Friday that senior policy adviser Gina Zejdlik will work on this issue along with ethics reform proposals. Chris Pair, a spokesman for Brown, said governor’s office will also bring in two Oregon Department of Justice employees to help tackle the backlog of public records requests submitted by news organizations and others when Kitzhaber was still in office.
On a personal note, Brown said she and her husband, first gentleman Dan Little, are in the process of moving from Portland to Salem.
“Mr. Little and I are very excited about moving into Mahonia Hall,” Brown said, referring to the governor’s mansion.
— The Capital Bureau is a collaboration between EO Media Group and Pamplin Media Group.