Governor John Kitzhaber
John A. Kitzhaber was inaugurated as Oregon's thirty-fifth Governor on January 9, 1995. He was reelected in 1998. His current term expires in January 2003. John Kitzhaber was born in 1947 in Colfax, Washington. He grew up in Oregon and graduated from South Eugene High School in 1965. After graduating from Dartmouth College in 1969, he attended the University of Oregon Medical School, earning a medical degree in 1973. He practiced emergency medicine in Roseburg, Oregon for 13 years.
Governor Kitzhaber first ran for public office in 1978 and was elected to the Oregon House of Representatives. In 1980 he was elected to the first of three terms in the Oregon Senate representing Douglas County and parts of Jackson County. He was elected Senate President in 1985 and served in that position until 1993. As Senate President, Kitzhaber was recognized nationally for authoring the ground-breaking Oregon Health Plan. He is credited both with crafting the plan itself and for bringing together diverse interest groups to pass the law, which took effect in February 1994. Kitzhaber also received recognition for his many accomplishments in the field of environmental stewardship, including the prestigious Neuberger Award given by the Oregon Environmental Council.
During his first term as governor, Kitzhaber oversaw the expansion of the Oregon Health Plan, which reduced the rate of uninsured Oregon children from 21 percent to eight percent. In addition, Kitzhaber's welfare reform plan, known as the Oregon Option, has reduced the number of welfare caseloads more than 50 percent, saved more than $200 million in the state budget, and helped nearly 20,000 Oregonians find work.
Preserving Oregon's environment remained a priority for Kitzhaber, and during his first term he developed and implemented the Oregon Plan for Salmon and Watersheds. This was a collaborative plan that encouraged federal, state and local government agencies to work with private landowners to restore watershed health and recover endangered salmon species. Education and opportunity for Oregon's children were also a centerpiece of Kitzhaber's administration. He fought for stable education funding, implementing the Education Act for the 21st Century, increasing investment in Oregon's colleges and universities, including freezing tuition.
Much of Kitzhaber's tenure as governor can be described as contentious. He engaged in a number of battles with members of the Republican-controlled legislature over the appropriate role and size of state government. Despite these skirmishes, his popularity with the electorate remained high through most of his two terms. However, as Oregon's economy declined in the last years of his administration, so did his public favor. It was eroded further by his combative relationship with the Republican legislative leaders. The quarrelsome and less than productive special sessions that ended the 2002 legislative calendar succinctly illustrated the futility of the stalemate.
Following his term of office in January 2003, Kitzhaber was named president of the Estes Park Institute, a Colorado-based education organization for community hospital and healthcare leaders. Kitzhaber married Sharon LaCroix of Saskatchewan, Canada in 1995. The couple divorced in 2003, soon after the end of his second term as governor, and have a son, Logan, born in October 1997.