- Associated Press - Saturday, July 18, 2015

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - Thrust into the spotlight when John Kitzhaber resigned as governor amid influence-peddling investigations, Gov. Kate Brown set out on a slow, methodical approach to taking power.

She chose not to upend state government, replacing only the most senior advisers and one state agency head. She did not outline grand shifts in public policy and instead pursued the pieces of Kitzhaber’s agenda she found most favorable.

Five months into her tenure, and with her first legislative session out of the way, Brown is showing no signs of changing her no curve-balls approach. In the coming months, her focus will be on implementing legislation that she and fellow Democrats pursued this year, she told The Associated Press in an interview.

“I bring a different personality to the office. And a different focus to the work,” Brown said. “I think by any measure I’ve been able to accomplish an incredible amount given where I came in on this legislative session. And I certainly have my own ideas and own imprint in terms of what I want to accomplish.”

Brown was in her second term as secretary of state when Kitzhaber stepped down following months of escalating scrutiny of his fiancée’s business affairs, which overlapped with work she did for the governor.

Brown promised to pursue a series of changes to the public records laws and ethics requirements for public officials. Lawmakers approved, despite strong Republican objections that the ethics reforms were far too skimpy to address the problems involving Kitzhaber.

“I think these are huge steps forward in terms of rebuilding public trust,” Brown said, acknowledging that she can continue to increase the level of accessibility and transparency.

Brown was widely seen as more liberal than Kitzhaber, who sometimes frustrated liberals with his strong tries to business interests and his eagerness to cut public-employee retirement benefits.

So far, Brown has signed every bill sent to her by the Democratic-controlled Legislature. She declined to say whether there are bills in the pipeline that she’s considering vetoing.

“When she began, I was concerned that she would be rubber-stamping the progressive program of the left wing,” said Rep. Mike McLane of Powell Butte, the top Republican in the House. “I haven’t seen her do much to dissuade that concern.”

Brown lauded a number of legislative victories for Democrats: mandatory paid sick leave, a statewide retirement savings plan and an initiative to use driving records to automatically register people to vote. All were largely in motion before Brown became governor and were approved in near party-line votes, helped by Democratic victories in last year’s election.

She faltered, however, on the one issue where she called together Republicans and Democrats in search of a compromise.

Brown called lawmakers from both parties to weeks of secret meetings aimed at approving new revenue for transportation projects. Republicans insisted the plan include a repeal of the low-carbon fuel standard - a carbon-reduction mandate that was set to expire before Brown signed a bill extending its life. It was one of the first bills she signed as governor.

Liberal lawmakers, particularly in the House, balked, but Brown teamed with the Senate to unveil a plan that repealed the carbon mandate and called for replacing it with other carbon-reducing efforts while raising a variety of taxes and fees to pay for road construction. Barely a day later, amid intense lobbying from environmental groups, Brown pulled the plug.

Now, she says the issues of carbon-reduction and transportation funding should be “decoupled,” and she insists she’s committed to the low-carbon fuel standard.

“I feel very strongly that this is good policy,” Brown said. “I think the bottom line for Oregonians is that cleaner fuels mean cleaner air, and we need that and we want that.”

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