Gov. Kate Brown faces mixed reviews over COVID-19 response

Without a comprehensive federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic, state governors have taken the lead in determining the best courses of action to mitigate the virus’s spread in their states. This has led to a patchwork of executive orders, social distancing measures, and economic shutdowns across the country. 

It’s also led to some governors — like Andrew Cuomo and Gavin Newsom — becoming national leaders during the public health emergency, while other governors have failed to meet the moment. In our conversations with political insiders and health care leaders in Oregon, it appears Gov. Kate Brown falls somewhere in the middle of the pack.

 

 

In a recent public opinion poll of the support of each governor across the US, Brown ranked 44th for her handling of the crisis. While the average governor approval rating in the poll was 72 percent, Kate Brown’s approval rating was well below the average at 65 percent. 

One political insider we spoke with on the condition of anonymity commented that Brown has failed to show herself as a leader during this pandemic. 

“I would say that Brown has been a follower, not a leader on this. This pattern that we’ve seen over the last month is that she reacts to things that build up. Often we’ve seen either the next day, or later the same day, or within a couple of days of what Governor [Jay] Inslee does, we then see Oregon kind of following along.”

The same insider says that there has been a “frustrating” lack of concrete details and plans coming out of the governor’s office. They point to Brown’s Tuesday press conference as a recent example. 

Today she had a presser about supposedly reopening the economy and it was a remarkably content-free zone. There is no plan. She gave no hints about what that might actually look like. It was just kind of, ‘well, we’re planning to have a plan.’”

Rather than viewing Brown as a follower, Alan Yordy, Senior Partner at CEO Advisory Network and the former President of PeaceHealth, says he sees the governor’s decision-making as well-suited to the way the disease has spread in Oregon. 

“I think she’s been thoughtful and measured,” says Yordy. “Oregon, of course, was not one of the initial epicenters. So, we had a little more time to think about how to respond as opposed to Washington that got hit hard and hit early in a couple of spots in the Seattle-area which required, probably, an earlier response by Jay Inslee. I think she took her time. She didn’t respond in any sort of quixotic way and as a result, I think we got fairly reasonable policies.”

Looking forward, as the state moves toward developing a plan to loosen social distancing requirements and reopen businesses, Yordy says he hopes the governor takes a nuanced approach. 

“This virus has been so variable across the country in the way it’s hitting various states and even parts of states. So, in a place like Oregon, the issues in rural Oregon are very different than the issues in more urban areas like Portland, Salem, and Eugene,” says Yordy. “I think as we come out of this, it will require a response that is not a one-size-fits-all response. It’s going to have to be a very thoughtful response in how we start opening the economy again.”