Governor John Kitzhaber
Born on March 5, 1947 in Colfax, Washington, John Albert Kitzhaber moved to Oregon at the age of 11, beginning a lifelong love affair with the state. He graduated from South Eugene High School and Dartmouth College, returning to Oregon to study medicine at the University of Oregon Medical School (now OHSU). Upon receiving his medical degree in June 1973 he moved to Denver where he served his internship at General Rose Memorial Hospital. Returning to Roseburg, Oregon he practiced as an emergency room doctor from 1974 to 1988. His experience as a doctor and his public policy leadership on health care issues have established Kitzhaber as one of the nation’s most respected voices on health care reform.
John’s interest in health care policy, his deep love for Oregon’s natural heritage and his concern about the lives and jobs of rural Oregonians led him to seek an additional form of public service: serving his neighbors as an elected official. He was elected to the Oregon House of Representatives from District 45 (Douglas County) in 1978 and was elected to the Oregon Senate from District 23 in 1980, 1984, and 1988.
Kitzhaber was elected by his colleagues to serve as Senate President in 1985; 1987; 1989; and 1991. Over that time he earned a reputation for integrity, civility and public policy innovation. His legislative career was marked by active leadership in the areas of public education, community development, environmental stewardship and a wide variety of health care issues including: long-term care, resource allocation and uncompensated care.
Among his many accomplishments during that period was the creation of the ground-breaking Oregon Health Plan, which expanded the number of people covered by health insurance while ensuring that public investments in health care were targeted to the most effective treatments. He worked with House Speaker Vera Katz to enact the Oregon Education Act for the 21st Century. He was also instrumental in the 1987 reform of the Oregon’s Workers Compensation System; rewriting the Forest Practices Act; beginning the phase down of field burning in the Willamette Valley; and the creation of the first legislative committee on Water Policy which led to the establishment of minimum stream flows and a public in stream water right.
John Kitzhaber was elected Governor of the State of Oregon in 1994 and reelected in 1998. As Governor, he undertook many new policy initiatives including the expansion of the Oregon Health Plan which has benefited nearly two million Oregonians since it was implemented in 1994. He broke new ground with the Oregon Option, a cooperative approach with the federal government that attempted to increase accountability and reduce bureaucracy related to the delivery of a number of government services. As one result, the State of Oregon reduced welfare caseloads by more than 50 percent, helping nearly 20,000 Oregonians find work and saving more than $200 million in the state budget.
On economic issues, Kitzhaber continued to earn his reputation as a leader who looked over the horizon. He brought to the state the first major renewable energy wind turbine manufacturer and laid in place the foundation for Oregon’s development and reputation as an incubator of green jobs. And John kicked off the effort to create the Oregon Business Plan, a comprehensive blueprint for economic progress for the state.
Kitzhaber’s leadership made Oregon a safer state. He led a series of reforms to Oregon’s public safety system, including a revamp of how offenders are supervised once they are released from prison through Community Corrections and an overhaul of the Juvenile Justice system. Kitzhaber also established a regular annual conference on the “Overrepresentation of Minority Youth in the Criminal Justice System” which sought to identify and address the underlying social and economic issues which have led to this troubling racial disparity. Kitzhaber also introduced and gained passage of the Oregon Children's Plan, which was designed to identify and assist at risk children and their families; to ensure more children were ready to learn when they reached school age; and to reduce school drop rates; social dependency and involvement in the criminal justice system.
Kitzhaber’s love of the outdoors and Oregon’s natural heritage also led him to develop several policy initiatives related to natural resources. The Oregon Plan for Salmon and Watersheds – and innovative approach based on collaboration between federal, state and local government agencies and private landowners – has helped to restore watershed health and recover endangered salmon runs. Kitzhaber also took a high profile and controversial stand by arguing that breaching the lower Snake River dams should be included as one of the options to help restore salmon populations. He also signed the executive order which created Oregon’s first Sustainability Council.
John Kitzhaber was the first governor in the United States to sign an Executive Order establishing a formal “government-to-government” relationship between the State of Oregon and the sovereign governments of Oregon’s Native American tribes. This executive order was subsequently passed into law by the legislature.
John fought against attempts to weaken Oregon’s protection of farm and forest land and the enforcement of the urban growth boundaries that are critical to preserving the Oregon way of life. Kitzhaber created the Governor's Growth Task Force and the Willamette Valley Livability Forum to help gather accurate information and outline integrated approaches for developing sustainable communities. His related Community Solutions program attempted to focus the efforts of numerous state agencies, other governments, and interested groups in collaborative problem solving and coordination to manage various community development projects across Oregon.
Since leaving the Governor’s office, Kitzhaber has continued to work on health care reform, founding the Archimedes Movement (wecandobetter.org) – a grassroots community engagement effort to reframe the debate on health care and build a voice for fundamental change. Kitzhaber also serves as the President of the Estes Park Institute, which conducts educational conferences for community hospitals. He serves as the Director for the Center for Evidence Based Policy at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland and holds an endowed Chair on Health Care Policy with The Foundation for Medical Excellence; an Oregon based public, nonprofit educational foundation.