Before you break through you gotta be you. That’s the message Tina Kotek wants delivered as she strives to shatter another political glass ceiling.
Kotek is campaigning for Oregon governor and a victory this November would mark the first time in American history a lesbian has ever been elected governor.
“One of the reasons I’m running is I believe in creating a place where people can be themselves, feel safe and be successful,” Kotek told SFGN in a telephone interview.
Kotek grew up in Pennsylvania and migrated to Oregon in 1987. Not long after the move, she came out and marched in her first Pride parade in Portland, Oregon.
Pride events were much more organic in those days.
“You just came off the sidewalk and marched,” Kotek recalled.
Last month, Kotek captured the Democratic nomination for governor, winning a hard-fought primary election against the state treasurer. Twitter trolls wasted no time in launching attacks, labeling her “Kate 2.0” — a reference to outgoing Gov. Kate Brown, who is term-limited and oversaw some of the country’s strictest COVID-19 policies.
Kotek, however, insists she has her own executive style.
“I see myself more as a convenor and sometimes a coach,” she said. “Bringing the team together. Bringing in diverse perspectives and listening to everyone. My goal is always, ‘How do we get to yes?’”
In doing so, Kotek can be direct, colleagues will admit. Even her own television commercials quip she’s been called the B-word.
“She expects competence,” said Representative Rob Nosse. “Behind her back, some of my co-workers who didn’t like her as much as I did called her a bit of a micromanager, but she’s just a smart woman who cares about the details and expects people to do their jobs.”
Nosse, a gay man who represents inner southeast Portland in the Oregon House, said the three-way race for governor is “Kotek’s to lose.” All three candidates are women, who have served in the state legislature.
One of the biggest problems facing Oregon is the homeless crisis, most evident by the large masses of tents and camps in Portland and Salem. Kotek said getting people into stable living conditions is her top priority — especially the most vulnerable.
“Our seniors, veterans, young people — particularly who come out of foster care. I feel it’s our responsibility as a state to get folks housed and a lot of those are LGBTQ youth,” Kotek said.
Preventing gun violence is another priority for Kotek, who points to her nine years as Speaker of the House as proof there are solutions.
“We improved background checks for all firearm purchases, particularly for sales at gun shows,” she said. “We made sure that domestic violence abusers and stalkers who were convicted could not have easy access to guns. We did a red flag law, a firearm safe storage law and allowed schools to ban guns on campus.”
Kotek said her record on guns presents a clear contrast from her two opponents, both of whom have the backing of the NRA.
“I do think people under 21 shouldn’t have access to semi-automatic assault rifles, that certainly would have helped in the situation in Uvalde,” Kotek said. “And if you’ve been convicted of a hate crime, I don’t think you should have access to firearms.”
Looking to the future, Kotek anticipates more people will embark on the Oregon Trail, much like she and her partner did, for a variety of reasons — climate refugees, workers seeking better wages or LGBT people yearning for human rights.
“My message to our trans young people is there are people who support you in all parts of this country so hang in there, reach out to adults who can be supportive,” Kotek said. “When I think about what’s going on in Florida it just really hurts my soul that people are coming after kids who are just trying to be themselves.”