Oregon Government

Introduction

Like the United States of America, the State of Oregon has a government divided into three branches, executive, legislative and judicial. Oregon is further divided into counties, all of which have cities. State, county, and city governments are governed by elected officials.

The Executive Branch

Governor

Oregon Constitution Article V Section 1: "The chief executive power of the State, shall be vested in a Governor, who shall hold his office for the term of four years; and no person shall be eligible to such office more than Eight, in any period of twelve years." The Governor is also commander in chief of the National Guard and the State Defense Force.

Governor Kate Brown (D) of Portland has served since 2015, following the resignation of Governor John Kitzhaber. As Secretary of State at the time, Brown was first in line to succeed the Governor.

Secretary of State

Oregon Constitution Article VI Section 2: "The Secretary of State shall keep a fair record of the official acts of the Legislative Assembly, and Executive Branch; and shall when required lay the same, and all matters relative thereto before either chamber of the Legislative Assembly. The Secretary of State shall be by virtue of holding the office, Auditor of Public Accounts, and shall perform such other duties as shall be assigned to the Secretary of State by law."

Secretary Bev Clarno (R) of Redmond has served since 2019, following the death of Secretary Dennis Richardson. Vacancies in the office are filled by gubernatorial appointment not subject to Senate confirmation. Because she is appointed, however, Secretary Clarno cannot succeed Governor Brown following a vacancy in the office.

State Treasurer

Oregon Constitution Article VI Section 4: "The powers, and duties of the Treasurer of State shall be such as may be prescribed by law."

Treasurer Tobias Read (D) of Beaverton has served since 2017 following his election to the office. The Treasurer is usually second in line to succeed vacancies in the office of Governor, but because Secretary Clarno was appointed, Treasurer Read is currently first in the line of succession.

Attorney General

Oregon Blue Book: "The attorney general controls and supervises all court actions and legal proceedings in which the state of Oregon is a party or has an interest, including all elected and appointed officials, agencies, boards and commissions. The attorney general gives opinions upon any question of law in which the state or any public subdivision may have an interest when requested by the governor, by any state agency official or by any member of the Legislature." While elected, the Attorney General is not eligible to succeed vacancies in the office of Governor.

Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum (D) has been Attorney General since 2011, when she was appointed to fill a vacancy in the office by Governor John Kitzhaber.

Commissioner of the Bureau of Labor & Industries

Oregon Blue Book: "The commissioner enforces state laws prohibiting discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodation and vocational, professional and trade schools. " While elected, the Commissioner is not eligible to succeed vacancies in the office of Governor.

Commissioner Val Hoyle of Eugene was elected to this position in 2018.

Other

Oregon has over 100 additional state agencies that perform various duties prescribed by the Legislative Assembly or Congress. Agency heads are appointed by the Governor, or hired by Board & Commissions appointed by the Governor. Unlike federal Cabinet Secretaries, appointed department heads in Oregon are not eligible to succeed vacancies in the office of Governor.

Pictured: Director Katy Coba of the Department of Administrative Services.

Legislative Assembly

President of the Senate

The Oregon Senate is the upper house of the bicameral Legislative Assembly. In addition to passing laws, the Senate approves appointments to state agencies and boards.

Most states elect a Lieutenant Governor who serves as the presiding officer of the Senate, similar to the office of US Vice President. In Oregon, the President is chosen by the Senate. Senate President Peter Courtney of Salem (D) has held this office since 2003. The Senate President is usually 3rd in line to succeed vacancies in the office of Governor. President Courtney is assisted by President Pro Tem Laurie Monnes Anderson of Gresham (D).

Senate Majority Leader

The Oregon Democratic Party has held a majority of seats in the State Senate since 2005 (currently 18/30). The Majority Leader is Senator Ginny Burdick of Portland.

Senate Minority Leader

The Oregon Republican Party has held a minority of seats in the Senate since 2005 (currently 12/30). The Minority Leader is Senator Herman Baertschiger, Jr. of Grants Pass.

Speaker of the House

The Oregon House of Representatives is the upper house of the bicameral Legislative Assembly. The Speaker is the last position in line to succeed vacancies in the office of Governor.

In Oregon, the Speaker of the House is chosen by Representatives. Speaker Tina Kotek of Portland (D) has held this office since 2013. She is assisted by Speaker Pro-Tem Paul Holvey of Eugene (D).

House Majority Leader

The Oregon Democratic Party has held a majority of seats in the House since 2013 (currently 38/40). The Majority Leader is Representative Barbara Smith Warner of Portland.

House Minority Leader

The Oregon Republican Party has held a minority of seats in the House since 2013 (currently 22/60). The Minority Leader is Representative Carl Wilson of Grants Pass.

Oregon Judicial Department

Supreme Court

Oregon Blue Book: "It is primarily a court of review in that it reviews, in selected cases, the decisions of the Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court usually selects cases with significant legal issues calling for interpretation of laws or legal principles affecting many citizens and institutions of society."

Chief Justice Martha Lee Walters is one of 7 Associate Justices elected for 6-year terms.

Court of Appeals

Oregon Blue Book: "The Court of Appeals has jurisdiction to review appeals of most civil and criminal cases and most state administrative agency actions. The exceptions are appeals in death penalty, lawyer and judicial disciplinary, and Oregon Tax Court cases, which go directly to the Oregon Supreme Court."

Chief Judge James Egan is one of 13 Associate Judges elected for 6-year terms.

Tax Court

Oregon Blue Book: "The Oregon Tax Court has exclusive, statewide jurisdiction in all questions of law or fact arising under state tax laws, including income taxes, corporate excise taxes, property taxes, timber taxes, cigarette taxes, local budget law and property tax limitations."

Tax Judge Robert Manicke was elected in 2018 to a 6-year term.

Local Governments

Counties

Like America is divided into states, Oregon is divided into counties. Each county has an elected board of commissioners or court, along with other elected and appointed officers who locally administer constitutional and statutory mandates. Voters may also make key decisions about city policy and revenue. The Association of Oregon Counties (Board of Directors pictured here) has additional constitutional obligations.

Cities

Most Oregon communities are collectively governed as cities with defined boundaries and an elected mayor and council. In most cities, the Mayor is the chair of the city council rather than the executive officer. Voters may also make key decisions about city policy and revenue. The League of Oregon Cities has additional constitutional obligations. (Pictured here: Salem, Oregon City Council.)

Special Districts

Counties and cities have broadly defined powers and responsibilities, but they may not be able to fulfill all community needs. Voters authorize the creation of special districts that provide one specific service to a community. Blue Mountain Translator District, where I serve as executive director, operates TV repeater stations that bring over-the-air television content from Boise and Portland to Baker and Union Counties. Special districts are governed by elected boards, and voters may make key decisions about policy and revenue. (Pictured here: Special Districts Association of Oregon Board of Directors.)

Education

Universities

Oregon's workforce can receive advanced training at 8 public universities:

  • Eastern Oregon University
  • Oregon Health & Science University
  • Oregon State University
  • Oregon Institute of Technology
  • Portland State University
  • Southern Oregon University
  • University of Oregon
  • Western Oregon University

Each university is overseen by a Board of Trustees appointed by the Governor of Oregon (pictured here: EOU Board of Trustees). University operations are coordinated by the Higher Education Coordinated Commission, also appointed by the Governor. Universities support each other's agendas through the Oregon Council of Presidents.

Community Colleges

Oregon's workforce can receive technical training at 18 community colleges. Community Colleges are governed by elected Boards of Education. Community college operations are also coordinated by the Higher Education Coordinating Commission. Community Colleges support each other's agendas through the Oregon Community Colleges Association.

K-12

Primary and secondary education is offered by School Districts, each governed by an elected board. Supplemental assistance for schools is offered by Education Service Districts, which have board composed of directly elected members and elected school board members. Oversight of schools is provided by the Oregon State Board of Education. School Districts support each other's agendas through the Oregon School Board Association. (Pictured here: OSBA Board of Directors.)

Fun Fact: Oregon does not have an independent State Superintendent of Schools. By law, the Governor is technically Superintendent, but in practice the duties are mainly discharged by an appointed Deputy Superintendent who reports to the Governor.