SALEM — Neither snow, nor rain nor the gloom of a big budget shortfall kept lawmakers from travelling to the Oregon state Capitol to take their oath of office Monday and attend the inauguration of Gov. Kate Brown.
"I was a little worried yesterday that we might have an empty chamber today," Brown remarked as she began her inaugural address.
A winter storm closed many schools and left the streets of Salem covered in slush.
But the House of Representatives was full for the special joint session. The Legislature returns on Feb. 1 for a five-month session.
In her inaugural address, Brown said the biggest obstacle to creating a better future for Oregon is a $1.7 billion budget deficit. Her proposal to deal with the shortfall raises some taxes and cuts some spending, while aiming to maintain funding for education, health care and other critical needs.
Brown asked lawmakers to discard partisanship in favor of partnership in dealing with the issue.
House Republican Leader Mike McLane of Powell Butte, said in a statement that "shortsighted fiscal planning has left our state in a poor financial position." He said many residents are still struggling because of Oregon's uneven economic recovery.
Brown described a "disturbing gap" between the unemployment rate in urban and rural Oregon.
To build the economies of rural communities, she said the state should improve bridges along the coast and U.S. Highway 97 down the middle of Oregon to make them earthquake-resistant. She said truck drivers are starting to use the highway, which offers only two lanes in many stretches, to avoid traffic jams in Portland.
At a news conference afterward, Brown was asked what type of improvements she envisioned for U.S. 97. She gave no details, saying only that it is the alternative route for Interstate 5 in the event of a major earthquake.
State Sen. Peter Courtney, who was chosen unanimously earlier Monday to be president of the chamber for an unprecedented eighth time, marveled that all 30 senators made it to the Capitol, despite weather that prevented the Portland State Chamber Choir from performing there.
In the House, Tina Kotek, a Democrat from Portland, was re-elected speaker. Kotek received 35 votes and McLane got 25, mirroring the number of seats held by each party.
Among the 14 new House members is Teresa Alonso Leon, a Democrat from Woodburn. She came to the U.S. from the Mexican state of Michoacan with her family without travel documentation when she was 5. In the 1980s, the family applied for permanent residence and in 2012, Alonso Leon became a U.S. citizen.
"It's a dream that became a reality," Alonso Leon told Oregon Public Broadcasting.
Brown said America has just experienced "the most bitter and divisive national election in memory."
She cited Minoru Yasui as an inspiration. During World War II, the Hood River native challenged the constitutionality of a nighttime curfew imposed on citizens of Japanese ancestry. He was sent to a relocation center then practiced law and fought for civil rights after the war.
"We must not allow the rights of any one person or class of people to be degraded in any way." Brown said.
Brown's legislative agenda calls for improving high school graduation rates, improving the state transportation system and extending access to health care to all children.
She also wants to close loopholes in gun purchases by having no deadline for the Oregon State Police to determine if a person is eligible, expand the prohibited list to include those convicted of misdemeanor stalking, and update the definition of a domestic violence offender.