Senate Majority Leader Kate Brown has the most political juice—potentially—of any woman in the state Legislature.
So as this year's legislative session begins to move out of opening-gambit stage, WW checked in last Friday with Brown to see how things are going. So far, so good, she said. Brown points to the recent bipartisan deal to divert the corporate income-tax kicker this year into a long-sought state "rainy day" fund as evidence of what she and Dems can do now that they run the place.
But WW also asked Brown about two other issues that aren't favored by all Senate Dems. One of them is legalizing civil unions. The other is reforming the practice of "pass-throughs" (see "Shakedown Dues," WW, Feb. 28, 2007), in which legislative leaders like her pass through campaign donations to other candidates or causes.
Here's what she said, as well as her answer to the question of whether she's interested in running for higher office if U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) gives up his Portland-based House seat next year to take on U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.).
WW: You and other legislative leaders appear to have reached a deal on putting the corporate kicker this one time into a "rainy day" fund. What happened to the idea of a permanent repeal of the corporate kicker?
Kate Brown: We're moving forward on the permanent repeal of the kicker. If this deal doesn't move forward when it comes to the floor, we'll put it on the ballot in May. If one-time gets passed, a permanent repeal won't be on the ballot until 2008. I think this week's resolution is a pretty good example of being able to come together on huge policy issues that we've been wrestling with for over a decade.
As chairwoman of the Rules Committee, you've committed to ethics reform, but what about pass-throughs?
I do not believe we will touch pass-throughs. I don't believe we have the votes for it. Do I support it? I am willing to take a look at it.
That doesn't sound like much of a commitment.
It's not all about money, guys! I have never had a complaint from a donor about how I spend my money. I will tell you the business community is very much in favor of a prohibition on pass-throughs, because that's how House Democrats got to the majority. They helped our members work together to help us get to the majority. I have no problem with more transparency. You could almost move to 24-hour reporting in the campaign finance arena.
But if you can't ban something as fundamental as pass-throughs, isn't it just so much rearranging of the deck chairs on ethics reform?
I don't believe we are simply rearranging the deck chairs. Oregon's ethics laws are very gray, and we are working very hard to really be specific and make them consistent. Quarterly reporting is going to happen online. Right now you can't even access ethics reports online. We would prohibit lobbyists from bundling, so a number of meals, entertainment and travel they bought for legislators that went unreported will either be banned or will be reported. The other piece we're looking at is the revolving door. We will pass something that prohibits legislators from taking a lobbying position right after leaving the Legislature.
All right. Let's shift gears a bit. What's going to happen with civil unions?
I think there are the votes in the Legislature to do that.
But you don't have it on the Senate Democrats' agenda?
This is the agenda that is unanimous in our caucus. We certainly don't have unanimity with that one, but I expect that will come up in April.
OK, a political question: Will you run for the U.S. House next year if Blumenauer gives up his seat to run for the Senate?
No. He's not going to run.
Why don't you think he'll run?
He's in a really good spot now that we're in the majority. And the Democrats have a good chance to win the White House. I assume that sets him up for a Cabinet position. Brown served two terms in the state House before her election to the Oregon Senate in 1996. She represents District 21, which includes parts of Northeast and Southeast Portland as well as Milwaukie.
Brown served two terms in the state House before her election to the Oregon Senate in 1996. She represents District 21, which includes parts of Northeast and Southeast Portland as well as Milwaukie. Brown, chosen as Oregon's first female Senate majority leader in 2004, grew up in a Republican household in Minnesota.