Gov. Kate Brown kicked off the February legislative session this morning with a state-of-the-state address built around a safe, non-controversial theme: Oregonians need enhanced job training.
Brown, who often appears tightly scripted in her public appearances, opened the speech on a deeply personal theme, discussing the importance of education in her family's lives.
The governor revealed a detail about her paternal grandfather, a doctor.
“He was brilliant, but he struggled with drug addiction most of his life,” Brown said.
That addiction forced her grandmother to raise four sons on nurse’s wages, but they thrived, nonetheless. Three, including Brown’s father, became doctors and the other, an engineer.
“She taught them that the key to a better life was education, education, education,” Brown said.
But today, Brown said, the state she oversees if falling short in terms of educating its workforce.
“There is a gap between the skills Oregon’s workers have and the skills that our growing businesses need,” Brown said.
Her speech comes as Oregon’s economy continues to set records for low unemployment.
But Brown pointed to a continuing mismatch between the skills high-wage employers are seeking and the skills Oregonians possess.
“Currently, one out of every four job openings in Oregon’s tech industry is filled from out of state,” Brown said. “[And] one out of every five jobs for advanced manufacturing are filled from out of state.”
The governor’s solution: she says she’ll push for a $300 million investment in career-and-technical education in the 2017-19 state budget and for apprenticeship and rural job creation strategies in a new policy package she called “Future Ready Oregon.”
It’s probably no accident that Brown focused today on policies that will find bi-partisan support. The governor is seeking re-election at a time when the economy is humming and, compared with the fractious atmosphere in Washington, D.C., conditions in Oregon are relatively rosy.
As she looks forward to a re-election contest later this year, probably against state Rep. Knute Buehler (R-Bend), there’s little reason for Brown to take many risks or push partisan policies.
“My vision is of an Oregon where we increase economic prosperity and do it in a way that ensures prosperity is inclusive,” Brown said. “The goal is to close the skills gap between the workforce we have and the workforce we need to fuel Oregon’s economy.”
House Minority Leader Mike McLane (R-Powell Butte), who escorted Brown to the podium before her speech, tossed a bucket of icy water on her proposals afterwards.
“It’s hard to appreciate Gov. Brown’s future aspirations for our state when she has failed to address so many problems here in the present. The governor gave only a passing reference to our PERS crisis, she did not address the scandals that have plagued the Oregon Health Authority,” McLane said in statement. “When is our state government going to get serious about solving the real problems that are staring right at us?”