On Feb. 28, Oregon lost a pioneer.
Four decades ago, Norma Paulus shattered a glass ceiling by becoming the first woman in Oregon to hold statewide office.
From 1977 to 1985, she served as secretary of state, and in 1986 the Republican nearly became governor. The trailblazing woman grew up in poverty—born in Nebraska and later moving to Eastern Oregon. As a legislator, she was formidable and unafraid of confrontation.
"Two details from Paulus' life reveal her toughness," WW wrote in 1976. "She had a bout with polio as a young woman, and she won admission to Willamette University's College of Law having only a Burns high school diploma. After working for the Harney County district attorney, a Salem law firm and the Oregon Supreme Court chief justice, she had absorbed enough law to petition Willamette and be admitted to law school."
Bill Love, a friend and adviser of Paulus', told WW during Paulus' 1986 run for governor, "She's a self-made person with a lot of street smarts."
This week, while reflecting on Paulus' legacy, we scoured our archives for coverage of the impact she made on the state.
Whether it was drawing a hard line on voting rights for the famous Rajeneesh cult or going to any length necessary to try to outsmart her gubernatorial opponent, Paulus paved a path for women leadership in the state.
Here's a roundup of some of the most notable articles WW published on Paulus between 1976 and 1997.
The Gist: Reporter Steve Forrester describes the tightest race in Oregon: the contest between Paulus, the Republican, and Blaine Whipple, the Democrat, for secretary of state. (Paulus went on to win.) The story focuses on the difficult logistics of a statewide campaign, where a long morning in Portland can lead to a squandered afternoon in Dallas, Ore.
Memorable Moment: "Both candidates bogged down in addressing the details of the secretary of state's responsibilities, but Paulus got off a good opener. Announcing she had a new slogan, based on the Charmin tissue television commercial, she warned: 'Don't let Mr. Whipple put the squeeze on you.' Whipple opened his speech with a Polish joke."
The Gist: Paulus sought a second term as secretary of state and, with the primaries a lock, WW took an early look at the effort by a Democrat, the boyish and temperamental John Powell, to unseat her. As in '76, an underlying theme of the race was that Paulus seemed more committed to the job than her opponent, who was eying the governor's mansion. But this time, Paulus was starting to aim higher, too.
Memorable Moment: "'Who would want this job, anyway?' asks Oregon Secretary of State Norma Paulus as she removes her glasses and sets them on the desk.
"The telephone rings again; it's someone else who wants to know how to get onto the May ballot. 'Who wants this job?' Republican Paulus inquires again as she waits lor the phone to resume its ringing spasms. 'Well, I'll tell you who. Me.'"
The Gist: The race for Oregon governor between Democrat Neil Goldschmidt and Republican nominee Paulus was a nail-biter. (Goldschmidt won, barely.) Brent Walth, who would later become WW's news editor and write a rollicking account of the race for Portland Monthly, was at the time a WW reporter tasked with asking the citizens of Eugene who they'd pick in '86.
Memorable Moment: "Joe Nobel, who doesn't plan to watch the debate either, reluctantly suggests he likes Neil but may vote for Norma. After all. he went to Burns High School with her years ago.
"'Hell, he'll win." says the second barber, a woman named Dee Fowler. 'Any movie star or politician with money in his name is going to get famous. Goldschmidt.'
"'I don't know,' Nobel says. 'Just think about it. Here's a gal from Burns. For her to get elected governor, that would be quite a feather in her cap.'"
The Gist: At a moment when Oregon and neighboring states were at risk of running out of electrical power, Paulus, a Northwest Power Planning Council member, opposed solutions that would have been bad for the environment—like utilizing nuclear power plants and burning garbage.
Memorable Moment: "When Norma Paulus, who was Oregon's secretary of state for eight years before losing the 1986 gubernatorial race to Neil Goldschmidt, first look her seat on the council, she was ready to meet with BPA head Jim Jura. 'Then I found out just how the council lacks power. Jura does not meet with us.' says Paulus."
The Gist: As state schools superintendent, Paulus proposed a taking power away from the Oregon Education Association. The move would have ditched teachers as board members on the commission that licenses school personnel and appointed administrators. Paulus said her impetus was to get more teachers to invest in trainings.
Memorable Moment: '"The union's bottom line is to protect senior teachers,' Paulus says. 'The TSPC [Teacher Standards and Practices Commission] has been built on letting teachers choose their own course of self-directed training, which is often not aimed at helping kids learn, but at helping teachers move up the academic pay scale.'"