Norma Paulus, who became the first woman to hold statewide office in Oregon and very nearly became its governor, died today. She was 85.
Paulus, a Republican, served as Oregon's secretary of state from 1977 to 1985, becoming the first woman to hold a statewide office. Her two terms were perhaps most memorable for her efforts to block the Rajneeshee sect from bussing in homeless people to sway a Wasco County election.
"Norma Jean Paulus might have been born in Nebraska, but she was a true Oregon pioneer in every sense of the word," Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney said today in a statement. "She blazed trails for women here. She was a founding member of the Oregon Women's Political Caucus and helped push the Equal Rights Amendment in Oregon."
Paulus is the second Oregon secretary of state to die this week, two days after Dennis Richardson, the incumbent.
Before running for secretary of state, Paulus served three terms in the Oregon Legislature. She was the Republican nominee for governor in 1986, running against Democrat Neil Goldschmidt.
Former WW news editor Brent Walth examined that race in Portland Monthly in 2016. Here's how he described it:
"Today, what we want are candidates who stand as tall as the challenges we face. We rarely get them. Oregon votes blue, and lopsided statewide races often come down to a not-a-hope-in-hell Republican running against a Democrat who wins without breaking a sweat," Walth wrote. "But in 1986, Paulus and Goldschmidt delivered. The two best candidates in a generation waged a fierce debate over Oregon's future, matching each other step by step until the campaign's final days. As political drama, it was Oregon's last epic."
The narrow contest may have been decided by Paulus' unforced admission that she had a political operative—a "mole"—planted in Goldschmidt's campaign.
"I could have been governor of Oregon," she told Walth. "I should have been."