Tina Kotek was chosen to lead the Oregon House in 2013, making her the nation's first openly lesbian speaker. A Pennsylvania native, Kotek moved in 1987 to Oregon, where she earned her bachelor's degree in religious studies at the University of Oregon. After earning her master's in international studies with a focus on comparative religion from the University of Washington, she worked for the Oregon Food Bank and Children First for Oregon before being elected to the House in 2006.
What is your top legislative priority and why? There are two. One is housing. Whether it's workforce housing or housing for low-income and vulnerable individuals, the lack of affordable housing is a real challenge in a lot of communities right now. I continue to try to come up with new ways to help build more supply, preserve what we have and help tenants have a fair shake in the rental market. The other one, because I like big problems, is climate disruption. We are trying to figure out how to bring a cap-and-invest bill to our legislature next year--similar to California's--because Oregon has to join other states to continue to make progress in reducing emissions.
What does it take to be an effective leader? You need to listen, and not just listening for ideas, but for values. My job is to meet the needs of every member of my body, whether Republican or Democrat, rural or urban. Leading is about setting goals and having a plan to get there. A lot of people are really good at identifying problems. I think it's up to leaders to chart a path for solutions and try to get people there.
Women are under-represented in state legislatures. What's your take on why, and what can be done to get more women involved? It is absolutely true that when encouraging women to run for any elected office, particularly the legislature, you have to do a little more work. You have to explain to them that they are just as qualified as the guy next door. We've been very successful in Oregon because we've made a concerted effort to have more diverse candidates who we've recruited. We have strong leadership in our legislature from women. But we have to do better than we're doing and it takes effort, it takes intentionality.
What does your political career and rise to leadership mean for the LGBTQ community? Like any community that has been marginalized, whenever you have a first it matters a great deal. People see possibility when they see people being first in whatever it is. Being the...