Governor Theodore R. Kulongoski's Administration
Theodore (Ted) R. Kulongoski was inaugurated as governor of Oregon on January 13, 2003. He was reelected in 2006. His second term expired in January 2011.
Kulongoski was born in rural Missouri in 1940 and grew up in St. Louis in a Catholic boys’ home. After graduating from high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and, on returning from duty in Southeast Asia, spent a few years as a truck driver and a bricklayer in a steel mill in Alton, Illinois. Those experiences and the availability of the GI Bill gave him the impetus and the financial opportunity to put himself through the University of Missouri.
Kulongoski earned his undergraduate and law degrees at the University of Missouri. He went on to serve as a judicial clerk in Eugene and then established his own law firm. Kulongoski is the only governor in Oregon history to have served in all three branches of state government. While practicing law, he was elected to the Oregon House of Representatives (1975-1978) and the State Senate (1978-1983), where he authored the Oregon Public Employee Collective Bargaining Act. In 1987, he was appointed Oregon insurance commissioner. As insurance commissioner, he led the reform of the Oregon workers’ compensation system, which is recognized nationally for reducing costs to employers while raising benefits for workers. Elected Oregon attorney general in 1992, he reformed the state juvenile justice system. In 1997, he was elected to the Oregon Supreme Court, where he served until mid-2001.
When Kulongoski was sworn in as governor in January 2003, Oregon faced a dramatic budget deficit. He responded by changing the way Oregon budgets, building a principle-based budget designed to establish fiscal stability while delivering measurable returns, including reforming the Public Employees Retirement System to save taxpayers billions of dollars. He made priority investments in economic development, workforce training, transportation infrastructure, and arts and culture that helped turned Oregon’s economy around. In his first term, he helped create over 150,000 jobs, attracted over a dozen new major employers to Oregon and substantially reduced the state’s hunger rate.
Winning reelection in 2006, Kulongoski remained committed to ensuring every Oregon child receives the educational opportunity to succeed and ensuring every student can access higher education or vocational training. In the 2007 legislative session, he championed record investments in pre-K-12 and post-secondary education, including the largest dedication of funding for financial aid in the state’s history. Kulongoski also took the lead on renewable energy by establishing a new standard that will require 25 percent of the state’s electricity to come from renewable sources by 2025. He continued his fight against global warming by requiring greenhouse gas levels be reduced to 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. Governor Kulongoski also led the charge to create a Rainy Day fund – the first in the state – so that Oregon is prepared to weather the next economic downturn without being forced to make drastic cuts to critical services for Oregon’s children and families.
For the 2009 legislation session, even as the state faced tough budget decisions due to the global recession, Kulongoski ensured that Oregon continued to make key investments for the future. Kulongoski passed the state’s largest long-term investment in transportation infrastructure, putting thousands of Oregonians to work, and legislation to provide every Oregon child with access to health care. Kulongoski also passed several bills that encourage greater energy efficiency and investments in renewable energy, as well as signing into the law the state’s first dedicated revenue source for the Rainy Day Fund.
Kulongoski and his wife, Mary Oberst, have three grown children and two grandchildren.