Oregon Is in the Midst of an Explosion of Female Political Power

Oregon: Where women rule.

As at least some of the nation celebrates former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's shattering a monumental glass ceiling with her history-making nomination for president, the reaction in Oregon could be "what took so long?"

Oregon is in the midst of an explosion of girl power. The current cycle began when state Sen. Kate Brown (D-Portland) won election as secretary of state in 2009, becoming just the third woman to hold that office.

In 2012, retired Oregon Court of Appeals Judge Ellen Rosenblum won election as the state's first female attorney general (Rosenblum is also married to Willamette Week co-owner Richard Meeker).

Related: Elected with pot money, Ellen Rosenblum, Oregon's new attorney general, faces many legal conflicts of her own making.

The following year, in 2013, state Rep. Tina Kotek (D-Portland) became speaker of the Oregon House, an enormously powerful position that put her in charge (along with the Senate president) of making the state's laws and writing its budget.

Then in 2015, only a month after being elected to his record-setting fourth term, Gov. John Kitzhaber, a Democrat, resigned under pressure from influence-peddling allegations swirling around him and first lady Cylvia Hayes.

Related: Corruption in the Governor's Office: U.S. Supreme Court Reverses Virginia Conviction

Kitzhaber's resignation, unprecedented in modern Oregon history, triggered an even greater rise to power by female officials.

Under the procedure established by the Oregon Constitution, Secretary of State Brown became governor—only the second woman ever to hold that office in Oregon.

Related: If a growing scandal forces Gov. John Kitzhaber from office, Secretary of State Kate Brown will take over.

She, in turn, named Jeanne P. Atkins to replace her as secretary of state. That meant for the first time in Oregon history, women held three out of the five statewide elected offices (Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian and State Treasurer Ted Wheeler found themselves in the gender minority).

Jim Moore, a political science professor and director of the Tom McCall Center for Policy Innovation at Pacific University, says the assumption of political power by women in Oregon is historic—and overdue in comparison to our neighbors. Moore notes that in Washington and California, for instance, both U.S. senators are women.

"Oregon has prided itself on breaking ground in many areas," Moore says, "but it's taken us 40 years from when women started winning elections here to get to where we finally have women evenly distributed through the upper level of government power."

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