Julia Shumway

(Oregon Capital Chronicle) With most attention focused on the three women running to become Oregon’s next governor, the woman who now holds the job has spent the past 12 days on a trade mission in Asia.

Gov. Kate Brown spoke with Oregon reporters by Zoom from Japan on Tuesday, where she was wrapping up a 12-day tour of South Korea and Japan. South Korea is Oregon’s fourth-largest export market and Japan its sixth.

“Oregon’s strong trade relationship with both Korea and Japan has contributed to Oregon seeing the fifth fastest export growth in the United States over the past five years,” Brown said. “We were only one of six states to see positive export growth during the pandemic.”

Brown said the trip was timed to coincide with Japan and Korea both recently reopening to international tourism after shutting down for Covid – Korea in April began allowing tourists for the first time since early 2020, and Japan reopened earlier this month. It provided a chance for Oregon’s elected and business leaders to rekindle personal relationships after last visiting in 2019, she said.

But it also took her out of Oregon as campaigning for the upcoming election reached its zenith – including just missing the arrival of President Joe Biden when he visited Portland to campaign for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tina Kotek. Brown has been rated the country’s least popular governor in quarterly polls from Morning Consult all year, and Kotek has stepped up criticism of Brown in recent weeks.

That includes one television ad, shot as though Kotek is looking into a doorbell camera, in which the Democratic nominee criticizes Brown for doing “nothing” on homelessness, and another on social media that describes Brown’s lack of action on homelessness as identical to Republican Christine Drazan’s.

Brown said she hadn’t seen those ads while traveling in Asia, but she stands behind her record on homelessness.

“I’m frankly really pleased with the work that my administration has done in strong partnership with the Oregon Legislature,” Brown said. “This is work that has truly been bipartisan to invest in ensuring that everyone across Oregon has a warm, safe, dry, affordable and accessible place to call home. We have made significant investments and, frankly, I think there’s been no other administration that has invested at the level we have.”

She said she looks forward to working with the state’s next governor on housing and homelessness prevention, as well as maintaining Oregon’s relationships with trade partners and growing the semiconductor industry. The latter was part of the reason for Brown’s trip: She wants Japanese and Korean technology companies to invest in semiconductor manufacturing in Oregon.

Brown also promoted Oregon’s agricultural products, including urging the Korean government to consider importing Oregon-grown raspberries and blackberries. Both countries already import Oregon blueberries, and Brown said she was surprised by how popular the fruit was.

“Everywhere we went, folks talked about Oregon blueberries,” she said. “They’re being very creative in their use from every morning for breakfast to making sure they’re used in treats such as frozen yogurt pops, and of course, yogurt and I suspect a little bit of ice cream. I was just blown away.”