Val Hoyle, pictured here in the Oregon Legislature in this May 4, 2015 file photo, will be Oregon’s next labor commissioner.(
Val Hoyle’s victory as Oregon’s next labor commissioner last week marked a likely gender high watermark in Oregon politics.
If Gov. Kate Brown wins re-election come November, as is considered highly likely in a Democrat-dominated state, it will be the first time in history that women will have been elected to the majority of Oregon’s statewide elected offices.
Brown easily won the Democratic primary and will face Rep. Knute Buehler in the general election on November 6. Ellen Rosenblum’s second term as attorney general runs through 2020.
"There has been a shift and women have been stepping up — and not just women but people of color and groups that haven’t felt represented — and it’s exciting to watch," said Hoyle.
This year’s primary decidedly made history for Oregon women in politics: voters elected the first female Metro Council president, the first African American woman will serve on the Portland City Council and an incumbent Washington County commissioner lost a re-election bid for the first time in 31 years, to a woman.
"We watched a number of very competitive races and the wins were not squeaky. They were big wins," said former Gov. Barbara Roberts, who served as Oregon’s first female governor from 1991 to 1995. "If the 2018 election is any indication, women are doing superbly in Oregon."
Brown’s potential win in November would not make for the first time that women have held the majority of statewide offices in Oregon, but the first instance happened via appointment, not the ballot.
Gov. Kate Brown was elected Oregon’s secretary of state in 2009, the third woman so chosen, and Rosenblum made history as Oregon’s first female attorney general in 2012. When former Gov. John Kitzhaber stepped down in 2015, Brown took his place, becoming Oregon’s second female governor. Brown appointed Jeanne Atkins to take her place as secretary of state, resulting in three of the five statewide offices run by women for the first time. Atkins was never elected secretary of state, however, as she did not seek election in 2016 and was succeeded by current Secretary of State Dennis Richardson.
There were a number of other firsts for women in this primary.
Loretta Smith and Jo Ann Hardesty will face off for a Portland City Council position in November, which will mark the first time an African American woman will hold a seat on that body. It will also make the council majority female with Commissioner Dan Saltzman’s departure.
Transportation planner and former Clackamas County Commission Chairwoman Lynn Peterson became the first female Metro Council president when she defeated opponent Michael Langley 78 percent to 21 percent.
"It’s not a new thing for me," Peterson said. She was the first woman to be elected Clackamas County Board of Commission chair, serving from 2007 to 2011. "I think we’ve been breaking barriers for quite some time."
Oregon Supreme Court justices Rebecca Duncan and Meagan Flynn were elected to the court in this primary, with Duncan breezing through to an uncontested win and Flynn beating opponent Van Pounds with 73 percent of the vote.
Duncan’s nomination to the court by Gov. Kate Brown in May 2017, following Flynn’s nomination to the court that March, shifted the court to majority women justices for the first time in history. Their primary wins sealed it as the first time voters have chosen a majority of women for Oregon’s high court.
Former state Rep. Shemia Fagan is on her way to claim the 24th District Senate seat after she defeated Sen. Rod Monroe and Kayse Jama for the Democratic nomination, adding a ninth female senator to the 30-seat chamber. There are no Republican opponents on the ballot.
In Washington County, Pam Treece upset two-term incumbent Commissioner Greg Malinowski for the District 2 position, the first time an incumbent lost in 31 years. Treece will be the first woman to serve on the male-dominated board since former Commissioner Desari Strader was replaced by Malinowski in 2010 after she didn’t seek re-election. The election of Susheela Jayapal means the Multnomah County Commission will stay 100 percent female and majority women of color.
"It takes courage to step out and run for election and I think we’re seeing across the nation a whole sea of women that are stepping up and accepting that responsibility," said Treece. "I’m proud to be a part of that."
Oregon Federation of Republican Women President Linda Neace wrote via email that the organization had more Republican women run for office in 2018 than previous years. Republican Jessica Gomez of Medford won a contested primary race for an Oregon Senate seat, and three other Republican women did the same in their races for the Oregon House.
As women sail to the forefront of politics in the state, Roberts said, there remains a long way to go before the number of men and women in most state legislatures and in Congress are equal.
"We still have work to do," she said, "but it is becoming more acceptable and more expected that women will seek office."
— Corlyn Voorhees