In 2014, Oregon voters granted Governor John Kitzhaber a fourth term leading our state. On January 12th, he swore his oath of office. On February 13th, he resigned. Our Secretary of State, Kate Brown, constitutionally next in line to become Governor, did just that on February 18th. Governor Kate Brown is the 38th Oregonian to hold her title. Well, technically, the 37th, because her immediate predecessor was both the 35th and the 37th, but I digress. With only 38 names on the list, the title of Governor is a big deal.
And, yet, all I seem to hear is “Kate.”
My threshold for using titles is, admittedly, higher than many of my colleagues’. When my friend Tobias and I attended college together, I used his first name; today he is Representative Read.
During my time of service to the State of Oregon, working for Governor Ted Kulongoski, Paul took orders from me. He armed me with a nerf gun because my office location, directly inside the door leading to the Governor’s Conference Room, made me the first line of defense. Today, I schedule time with his assistant and I call him Representative Evans.
And, our former boss? I simply call him Sir since Governor Kulongoski is a bit of a mouthful.
Our elected leaders are ordinary people for whom the call to serve is greater than the fear of stepping into the arena. Make no mistake; stepping into the arena is no easy feat. With today’s scandal-a-day (or sometimes every hour) “news” media’s appetite, the beast must be fed. Reporters with online quotas search for any tiny seed of controversy they can find. During campaign season, consultants look under every rock for dirt on their candidate’s opponent. If they don’t find enough, they add water and make mud to better sling muck via the next mail piece. With context, nearly every single accusation made during a campaign can be understood as a mistake, a blunder, a goof the accused made while living and doing their best, while being human. Good people are frequently scared off from public service for fear some mistake in their past will appear and haunt them. This environment of fear and gotcha makes the act of volunteering to lead even more brave; the people stepping into the arena, even the ones we don’t personally agree with, deserve the utmost respect from each of us.
After noticing the common use of "Kate" when referring to our Governor, I began to hear it everywhere. And not just with our state's highest leader; women elected to office in general are often identified by first name.
I want strong leaders representing my interests. I want leaders with diverse backgrounds willing to make difficult decisions. I want leaders who never forget it isn't about them, it is about the people they serve. I want leaders deserving of the titles we grant them each election. I want to identify our leaders by showing the esteem they deserve.
She’s not Jackie. She’s Senator Winters.
She’s not Shemia. She’s Representative Fagan.
She’s not Jodi. She’s Representative Hack.
She’s not JVP or LMA or ESH or BSW or AKG. She’s Representative Vega Peterson or Senator Monnes Anderson or Senator Steiner Hayward or Representative Smith Warner or Representative Keny-Guyer.
She’s not Julie. She’s Representative Parrish.
She’s not Val. She’s Majority Leader Hoyle.
She’s not Debbie. She’s Representative Boone.
She’s not Susan. She’s Representative McLain. (Except for you, Emily; you are still allowed to call her Mom.)
She’s not Nancy. She’s Representative Nathanson.
She’s not Sara. She’s Senator Gelser.
She’s not Betty. She’s Representative Komp.
She’s not Jenn. She’s Representative Williamson.
At a recent event for some of the women from the Capitol hosted by our new Governor at Mahonia Hall, the residence for Oregon’s First Family, I heard a story about Oregon’s first woman to serve as the state’s highest leader, Governor Barbara Roberts. When asked, recently, how she would like to be addressed, she replied, simply, “Governor.”
She knows she earned that word and does not hesitate to say so.
The women of the legislature earned their titles, too, and we should not hesitate to say so.
She’s not Ginny. She’s Senator Burdick.
She’s not Kathleen. She’s Representative Taylor.
She’s not Gail. She’s Representative Whitsett.
She’s not Betsy. She’s Senator Johnson.
She’s not Margaret. She’s Representative Doherty.
She’s not Diane. She’s Majority Leader Rosenbaum.
She’s not Carla. She’s Representative Piluso.
She’s not Kim. She’s Senator Thatcher.
She’s not Caddy. She’s Representative McKeown.
She’s not Sherry. She’s Representative Sprenger.
She’s not Ann. She’s Representative Lininger.
She’s not Tina. She’s Speaker Kotek.
When I occasionally point out lax language, I often hear in response the person is a friend so first names are okay. Sure, we make friends at work. I cherish friendships nurtured over the years, especially considering the often harsh conditions within which growth must occur.
However, elected officials I’m fortunate enough to call my friend beyond our work in the Capitol are the very people it is most important I recognize by utilizing their title. When they are acting in their professional capacity, they are not simply my friends. They are leaders with faces marred by dust and sweat and blood, as President Theodore Roosevelt once proclaimed about people willing to enter the fray of the arena. And the way I choose to honor their bravery is to call them by the title granted based on the office they hold.
I don’t think the 38th leader of our great state would disagree when I call her my friend. Once, early in my career, I waited for my boss to join a client and me for a meeting. The scheduled time arrived and then Senator Brown walked forward to greet us. I asked if we could wait just a few minutes for my boss to arrive and she said, “you’re a lobbyist. We don’t need him. Come on back.” Over time, her generosity of spirit and willingness to talk anytime about any topic earned my highest regard. I, too, grew in my career and our paths continue to cross. Always full of grace, today she greets me as a peer, as a friend.
And as her friend, I would not hesitate to use her first name. Except for this one thing.
She’s not Kate. She’s Governor Brown.
Grainy but meaningful; I watched Governor Brown take her oath of office from distant corner with a rush of pride.