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Name: Roberts, Barbara (1936-)


Historical Note:

The first woman to be elected Governor in Oregon, Barbara Roberts (1936-) served in that position from 1991-1995.  Prior to her term and in the subsequent years, Roberts has been actively involved in Portland and Oregon politics and community organizations. A fourth-generation Oregonian, Roberts was born Barbara Kay Hughey December 21, 1936 in Corvallis, OR, to Bob and Carmen Hughey. She had one younger sister, Patricia (Pat) Welter. Barbara Roberts graduated from Sheridan High School, where she served on the cheerleading squad and as student body secretary, in 1955.  During her senior year, she married her high school sweetheart, Neal Sanders. Following high school, she moved with her husband to Texas, where he was stationed by the Navy. There she gave birth to her two sons, Mike and Mark, before the family moved back to Oregon. She and Sanders divorced in 1972.

The challenges Roberts faced in finding adequate education for her autistic son, Mike, encouraged her to found the Portland chapter of the National Society for Autistic Children, and then to enter to enter politics as a lobbyist in 1969. While lobbying for Senate Bill 699, which passed in 1971, she met Frank Roberts, a state senator. They later married, in 1974. She first sought elected office at the local level, and served on the Parkrose School Board (1973-1983) as well as on the board of Mt. Hood Community College (1978-1981). Roberts served as a State Representative for District 17 from 1981-1985, and as majority leader  (the first woman to hold that position in Oregon) during her second term.

While Secretary of State (1985-1990) she was a strong advocate for a new State Archives building, increased handicapped accessibility to voting precincts, and expanded auditing duties for the Secretary of State office, among other issues. During that period, she was also appointed by Governor Neil Goldschmidt to chair the Governor’s Task Force on Workers’ Compensation Reform.

In 1990, she won the gubernatorial election with a plurality of the vote, defeating Republican candidate David Frohnmayer. As governor (1991-1995) she faced a variety of challenges, including the passage of Measure 5, a tax cut measure that resulted in severely reduced state budgets, and the clash between environmental and economic concerns embodied in the spotted owl issue. Her husband’s terminal illness provided an added complication, and his 1993 death was one of the reasons she cited when declaring her withdrawal from the 1994 gubernatorial race.

While governor, Roberts worked closely with the Clinton administration, particularly in establishing the Oregon Health Plan and a joint state-federal effort, the Oregon Option. To educate voters about her tax plan, created in the hopes of making up for some of the shortfall created by Measure 5, Roberts pioneered the Conversation with Oregon, an enterprise utilizing the state’s Ed-Net system, to communicate via an interactive video link with voters across the state. Despite this effort and her strong lobbying efforts on behalf of the plan, voters did not pass the plan. She also used the Ed-Net system in her teen pregnancy prevention efforts. Among the many other issues that she has advocated for during and after her time in office are environmental issues, early childhood education, gay rights, pro-choice measures, public transit, and the right to death with dignity.

After leaving office, Governor Roberts was named director of the Harvard University Program for Senior Executives in State and Local Government (a program that she herself attended while Secretary of State) and a senior fellow to the Women and Public Policy Program.  In 1998, she returned to Portland and accepted a position at Portland State University's Hatfield School of Government's Executive Leadership Institute as Associate Director of Leadership Development; while there, she was involved in the establishment of the Legacy Program.  In 2011, Roberts was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Portland Metro Council. During her post-gubernatorial period, Roberts also embarked on two major writing projects: 2002’s Death Without Denial, Grief Without Apology: A Guide for Facing Death and Loss, which offered both guidance to others and an account of her own experiences with grieving for loved ones, and her 2011 autobiography, Up the Capitol Steps.






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