Monday, October 31, 2011

Barbara Roberts to Read from New Memoir

I'm so excited for our reading tomorrow night, when we welcome former Governor Barbara Roberts to Broadway Books to read from her recently published memoir, Up the Capitol Steps: A Woman's March to the Governorship (Oregon State University Press). Governor Roberts has always held a special place in my heart -- not just because she was the first (and thus far only) female governor elected in Oregon -- but because of her commitment to public education, human rights, and environmental management. I am reading her memoir currently, and finding the stories fascinating.

Ms. Roberts was an unlikely candidate to become Oregon's first female governor. Her introduction to politics came as she lobbied for educational rights for children with disabilities, who at that time (1962) had no legal rights to a public education in Oregon. Her first son, Mike was what is now known as autistic. At that time the medical experts told her that she was the cause of her son's problems, that she was what was then called "refrigerator mothers," for their cold, uncaring ways. I can't imagine how hurtful that must have been for a caring, passionate young mother.

Barbara Roberts, a fourth-generation Oregonian, was born in Corvallis and grew up in Sheridan. Her sister, Pat, was born two years later. Her family moved to Southern California in 1940, but moved back to Oregon after the war. "Looking back at World War II, I believe my sense of duty, my commitment to public service, was born during those years. The patriotism of the period was strongly felt."

Roberts was an active kid, participating in Girl Scouts and serving as catcher of the softball team and editor of the high school newspaper. She was a student body officer and cheerleader in high school. "By the time I was a teenager I had little concept of the role of spectator. I was never good on the sidelines. I always loved being part of the parade." She also picked strawberries and green beans to earn money, another area in which she excelled: "I was a driven crop picker. I reasoned if I were going to get up that early and get that dirty, I was going to make some money at it!"

She married while still in high school, but she graduated before moving to live with her husband, who was serving in the military -- as she had promised her parents she would. She and her husband had two sons, Mike and Mark, but divorced after sixteen years of marriage. As a newly divorced single parent, she worked as a bookkeeper at a construction company four days a week and spent one day a week in Salem, lobbying for Senate Bill 699 to give special-needs children the right to an education. Her mentor in the lobbying effort was Senator Frank Roberts. On June 29, 1971, Governor Tom McCall signed Senate Bill 699 into law. On July 29, 1974, she married Frank Roberts.

Roberts lost in her first attempt at running for office -- in 1972 when she ran for a seat on the Parkrose school board. A year later she ran again. This time she won. She later served on the Mt Hood Community College board, served as Frank's legislative assistant, and was appointed to fill the remaining nine-month term of the Multnomah County Commission, after one of the commissioners left before the end of his term. She publicly declared that she would visit every county facility and building in her first two months in office. She soon learned, to her dismay, that in addition to the courthouse, jail, juvenile facility, and elections department that she was aware of, the list also included parks, cemeteries, storage facilities, printing operations, road maintenance buildings, alcohol and drug programs, and a fairgrounds operation -- thirty-nine facilities in all. But she kept her word. "That experience taught me to be better informed before I made big public commitments and promises."

In 1980 she ran unopposed for State Representative in District 17. In her second term, she became Oregon's first woman House majority leader. In 1984 she was elected secretary of state -- the first Democrat elected to that post in 114 years. She was reelected in 1988. In February 1990, she got a very surprising phone call from then Governor Neil Goldschmidt one evening, in which he informed her that he would not be running for reelection. A few days later, Roberts held a press conference in which she announced her candidacy for Governor of Oregon. She won the election, a night that saw three states elect women as governors: Roberts in Oregon, Ann Richards in Texas, and Joan Finney in Kansas.

You'll have to read Barbara's book to get the details on the campaign and on her term as governor. Trust me: it's been a roller coaster ride of good times and challenging times. Currently, Roberts is serving on the Metro Council, completing the term of Robert Liberty, who left to take a position at the University of Oregon. When she completes that commitment, she says she's going back to school to finish her college degree. Yes, she is not one to sit passively on the sidelines!

I hope you can join us tomorrow (Tuesday, November 1st) at 7pm to hear Barbara tell us about her life and political career, as she reads from Up the Capitol Steps: A Woman's March to the Governorship.

1 comment:

  1. I'm sure it will be great. Barbara is a fantastic woman - fearless. Ask her about Kenny Rogers....


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