Recent Roundtable With Gov. Tina Kotek Brings Promising Outlook for Remaining Term

Oregon governor Tina Gov. Kotek attended a Bulletin-hosted journalism roundtable on Feb. 28, 2024, to address relevant issues facing Oregon midway through her term. Journalist representatives across Oregon were given the opportunity to ask Gov. Kotek a question on any topic, and her plans for how to address recent contentions within Oregon politics. Gov. Kotek’s gubernatorial campaign focused on reducing homelessness, raising the minimum wage and tackling the addiction crisis, winning the election in Nov. 2022. 

Re-addressing Homelessness

One of the top priorities for Oregonians was the focus for her first-year legislative session, which included housing production and, in turn, serving those who are unsheltered. Bill 1527, meant to support housing production, has been in action since the start of her term. 

“[The bill] is a comprehensive proposal to bring a set of tools that we need in the state to really improve our housing production across the state and in all communities,” said Gov. Kotek.

Regularly noted throughout the conference, Gov. Kotek mentioned the legislature’s progressive action towards housing production and a tri-set of “packaged bills” and money to support the commitment concerning statewide infrastructure. She claimed to have updated her emergency order on homelessness which is still in full effect as a statewide emergency. 

“We met the goals as it related to preventing homelessness, creating new shelter capacity and rehousing individuals,” said Gov. Kotek. “We exceeded all [of] those goals.” 

She emphasized the significance of resolving Bill 1527, stressing that housing problems are universal. Kotek frequently proposed legislative focus on housing and homelessness as her only solution and the Oregonian’s top priority.

“We are [now] focusing again on prevention, rent assistance, keeping people housed, and then focusing on rehousing,” said Gov. Kotek. “So, we have a lot of work to do.”

Measure 110 and Drug Usage

While summarizing key focuses during her first year spent in office, Gov. Kotek was quick to address concerns about drug abuse, (especially that stemming from adolescence), and immediately expressed willingness to discuss movement in the legislature with this regard. Though the time constraint left little time for discussion, it became apparent that she hoped to solve this issue bottom up, starting with funding for education. 

“There’s a lot of work we need to do there on behavioral health, and we’re also looking to see what the legislature is doing on the next phase of the Measure 110 conversation, so I’m happy to talk about that,” Gov. Kotek said, prior to receiving any questions from the journalists.

Focusing on the educational aspect of behavioral health, Kotek stated that she plans to address the social-emotional health of students, acknowledging that “there are still a lot of behaviors that got worse during the pandemic that are still showing up in classrooms.” Her goal is to create “safer classrooms for everyone.”  

Kotek has maintained a focus on a systems approach to the holistic view of Oregonian matters, operating under the belief that one issue likely stems from another.  

“We’re gonna solve this by getting every part of the system together,” she said, acknowledging a La Grande hospital’s efforts to get high school students involved in the construction of housing units badly needed in the area. 

Oftentimes, her pursuits have been rooted in the idea that improving our education system and specialized education accessibility will create a ripple effect. She has emphasized attaining more funding for our education system that has previously been deemed necessary, the ambition being that improved education will lead to a decrease in critical workforce shortages, which will in turn attack the issue of homelessness from all angles. 

Kotek also referenced behavioral health treatment capacity, saying, “the approach we’re taking there is by…trauma region,” meaning that she intends to address the individual needs of communities experiencing particular insufficiencies in these care facilities. She stated that she plans to address housing in a similar manner. 

She left off on a hopeful note, though acknowledging that there is lots of work to be done.

Education and Reading Literacy

Education has been an integral portion of Gov. Kotek’s initiatives while in office; last August, she signed into law a budget allocating over $10 million to education, which is the largest amount of funding that education has received in any state’s history. The funds are meant to improve childcare access, create equitable environments for students, and, most importantly, improve state literacy rates.

“We are, right now, working with the programs that train teachers for the future to make sure that what they have in their curriculum is actually teaching the science of reading in an [effective] way,” said Gov. Kotek. “I am continuing to focus on literacy, making sure that every school district is doing the instruction that will actually have the best outcomes.”

“Our reading numbers are abysmal,” emphasized Gov. Kotek. She’s not wrong—in 2019, less than half of Oregon third-graders were at a proficient reading level, according to the state Department of Education.

“I want better for our students, and I’m going to work really hard to make that happen,” Gov. Kotek concluded, emphasizing how the coming two years of her gubernatorial term will ensure that Oregon’s literacy rates see a considerable increase.

Portland Teacher Strike

The Portland Teacher Strike, resolved last December, was a result of inadequate pay, planning time and resources for teachers in the district. After reaching a tentative agreement, the union is set to receive a 6.25% pay increase within the next year. 

“I am committed to working on the formula of how schools are funded, making sure that we can modernize it and address the core functional needs of our districts,” said Gov. Kotek. “And that includes compensation for our educators.”

Following the 11-day strike, Gov. Kotek stated that, going forward, her sole focus will be budget transparency for school districts across Oregon.  

“We have a proposal [in the] legislature right now on a transparency office in the Department of Education that will put all these things online,” said Gov. Kotek. This proposal will make funding records more accessible, allowing citizens to hold the Department accountable to their promises of a better environment for educators.

Gov. Kotek also recognized the falling attendance rates across the state. Post-pandemic, over one-third of Portland students became consistently absent throughout the last school year.

In order for Portland schools to become a positive environment for both students and teachers, teachers need to be supported with the correct resources. 

“I’m not one of those people who believes it’s just about money—we always need to make sure the resources are adequate—but how is that money being spent, how is it resulting in the outcomes we need? That is where I’m going to be focusing as we go into 2025,” said Gov. Kotek.

Greater Idaho

When asked about fair resource allocation, Gov. Kotek brought up a recently commissioned study on behavioral health treatment capacity. This study showed that some communities were lacking infrastructure. In response to this lacking infrastructure, Gov. Kotek is taking a regional approach.

“Not every community can have every service… but you should be able to, within your region, go to the different types of care that you need,” she said. 

Gov. Kotek is taking a similar approach to housing. Housing has, in some part, a focus on the geographical distribution of services. The governor’s office has recently implemented a practice to merge the funding streams together, so individuals only need to contact a single agency, streamlining the process of applying for housing subsidies.

Gov. Kotek understands that eastern Oregonians don’t feel heard, and they need to see something actually happening.

“That is why I visited every county last year,” she said.

Nonetheless, Kotek feels that the idea of a collective, unified Oregon will “take time for people to have renewed confidence in.”

Funding for Journalism

The Bulletin Editor Gerry O’Brien posed the final question of the meeting, echoing a concern from many small publications struggling to provide unbiased journalism in places with no other source for news. The question was about where Gov. Kotek stood on state funding for local, independent journalism. 

She agreed that it was important, and said that she was “beside herself” when she heard that The Bulletin was considering closing years ago, and was happy that this was not the outcome. Kotek then noted the difficulties of organizing funding, and that there would need to be a “firewall” between the state and the publications being funded. Doing so would be difficult to assure truly independent journalism. Nonetheless, Kotek’s remarks emphasized her commitment to furthering journalism, especially in rural areas, statewide.

“I think we undermine our democracy if we do not have local journalism,” said Kotek.

There haven’t been any proposals to support local journalism coming across her desk right now, but O’Brien promised that in the next legislative session, The Bulletin and other newspapers would bring such issues to her attention. 


Although an hour was only enough to entertain a select handful of topics, Gov. Kotek was direct and to-the-point about what needed to be done within Oregon politics to achieve the goals she started out with in her campaign. One of the most common statements of the evening was a refreshing sentiment about politics, acknowledging the progress, and reflecting about what can be done better for the future. 

“No, we’re not doing a good enough job,” Gov. Kotek said, in response to a question about caregiver safety. 

In a time when sugarcoating reality seems to be the new norm of campaigns, Gov. Kotek’s honesty is both troubling and comforting, the beginning of a long battle for a new Oregon.