Oregon Governor Kate Brown, who is seeking re-election this year, met with members of the Associated Students of Portland State University and the Oregon Student Association on Tuesday, May 15 to discuss issues relevant to the PSU student body and advocate for student voter participation in the Oregon primaries.
Gathered in a small briefing room in the ASPSU office, Brown asked members about their educational focuses and career-based aspirations, but focused mainly on weak college-age voter turnout for local and statewide primary elections.
Brown won the Democratic primary with more than 80 percent of votes cast, but according to an Oregon Secretary of State unofficial tally, only 33.6 percent of voters turned in their ballots. It is unclear what percentage of those voters were typical college-age students.
“Turnout numbers are relatively low,” Brown said, addressing a table of ASPSU leaders, “and I’m just curious about what you’re hearing from students [and] from your colleagues about enthusiasm or lack of enthusiasm around the election.”
Newly elected ASPSU senator Isaac Harper turned Brown’s question in the direction of issues more immediately important to students that might distract them from local or state-wide politics.
“Admittedly, I think that most students are so buried in studies and so buried in trying to pay rent and pay tuition,” Harper said, “that, oftentimes, they barely have the ability or time to pay attention to local level races.”
In response, Brown said she believes one of the best ways for students to advocate for their own interests is for them to participate in the voting process.
“Do you have a sense that students make the connection between who gets elected to the legislature and the impact on tuition?” Brown asked. “There’s a really hotly contested state senate race in East Portland. Do they get the sense that that person may have, and is likely to have, a huge impact on our ability to impact tuition?”
“Who’s electing our officials?” she added. “It’s people who are older than me. Who are elected officials responsive to? The Baby Boomers.”
Following her meeting with ASPSU, Brown and student leaders from ASPSU and OSA gathered between Cramer Hall and Smith Memorial Student Union for a get-out-to-vote event to collect ballots. Brown then opened herself up for questions from the press.
When asked what she planned to do about Oregon’s Public Employee Retirement System (PERS)—which PSU officials have blamed in part for annual raises in tuition— Brown said her administration had “provided with legislation in February a match for local jurisdictions to pay down their share” of costs related to PERS and that, if elected, she would “continue to make progress.”
According to The Oregonian, Oregon’s public pension deficit has exceeded $25 billion, and investment returns on pensions have decreased, which means in upcoming fiscal years public schools, universities and local governments will need to pay a higher share of the PERS bill.
In response to PSU President Rahmat Shoureshi’s plan to create a co-op program at the university—which he suggests will bring more private investment dollars to campus—Brown said in talks with the business community, leaders have “said that they are willing to pay more so that we can adequately fund higher education.”
About a dozen students turned in ballots to Brown and ASPSU senator Hakan Kutgun who held an unofficial ballot box together and took photos with students. Overall, the message from Brown was clear: If students are to enact change within the university—tuition, student livability, housing prices, etc.—then they need to vote.