SALEM, Ore. (Reuters) - Liberal Democrat Kate Brown was sworn in as Oregon governor on Wednesday, pledging to restore trust in government after an influence-peddling scandal led to the resignation of her predecessor.
Brown replaced fellow Democrat John Kitzhaber, who stepped down as his administration faced federal and state corruption investigations because of allegations that his fiancée, Cylvia Hayes, used her role in his office for financial gain.
Brown, 54, who had been secretary of state, took the oath of office during a ceremony in the state House of Representatives in Salem, Oregon’s capital, making her the nation’s first openly bisexual governor.
Kitzhaber, who had been elected in November to an unprecedented fourth term, has denied wrongdoing but agreed last week to resign following pressure from prominent Democrats who were once his strong allies.
“Oregon has been in the national news for all the wrong reasons. That changes, starting today,” said Brown, known for her efforts to expand voting and promote campaign finance transparency. “It’s time for us to get back to work. It’s time to move Oregon forward.”
Brown’s ascent to the governorship could give her an edge in a 2016 election triggered by Kitzhaber’s resignation. Oregon media had reported she had already been mulling a run for governor.
In public remarks after the swearing-in ceremony, Brown called for reforms to “restore the public’s trust” and for more jobs and access to good education and healthcare, but offered little in the way of specifics. She also vowed that neither she nor any family members would accept outside compensation related to state business.
Kitzhaber did not attend the ceremony and made no public statements afterward. Before stepping down, he commuted the sentence of a man convicted of attempted murder, Brown’s office said.
Republicans have expressed concern that Brown might try to lead Democrats further left.
“She doesn’t come in with a strong mandate,” University of Oregon political scientist Joseph Lowndes said. “In terms of getting things done, the landscape has changed in Salem and it may be that Democratic leaders in the Senate and House have more authority given there is a vacuum in leadership.”
Brown, whose role as secretary of state was focused mostly on behind-the-scenes workings of governance such as voting, was appointed to the state House in 1991. In 2004, she became the first woman to serve as state Senate majority leader.
She has touted her work in passing civil rights and domestic partnership laws, and she backed a bill to let Oregonians register to vote when they get a driver’s license. She also has worked to create an online campaign donation database.
Critics accused her of playing politics when she delayed a 2012 election for labor commissioner, a move perceived by some as helping a fellow Democrat.
Reporting by Shelby Sebens in Salem, Ore.; Writing by Eric M. Johnson; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Peter Cooney