The following is a transcript of an interview with Oregon Governor Kate Brown that aired Sunday, September 13, 2020, on “Face the Nation.”
MARGARET BRENNAN: We begin this morning with Oregon’s governor, Kate Brown, joining us from her home in Salem. Good morning to you, Governor.
GOVERNOR KATE BROWN: Good morning. Thank you so much for having me.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We have seen reports that at least 10 people have died, dozens are missing. State officials are- are warning of a potential mass fatality event. When will you have these fires under control?
GOV. BROWN: Well, the good news is that the weather has stabilized. Just to give your viewers a perspective about what’s happening on the ground, about every year for the last 10 years, we burn about 500,000 acres. This year, this week alone, we’ve burned over a million acres of beautiful Oregon. We’ve got fires on the coast. We’ve got fires in communities right up abutting our metropolitan areas and southern Oregon has been devastated. We’ve had over 40,000 Oregonians who’ve had to evacuate, and we have a half a million Oregonians who are on some level of evacuation status. So these have been devastating. As I said, the good news is the weather is stabilizing, and it gives our hardworking firefighters an opportunity to go out and be proactive and build containment lines.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you have clarity yet on how the fire started?
GOV. BROWN: No. That’ll be investigated over the days and weeks ahead, but I have to tell you, we saw the perfect firestorm. We saw incredible winds. We saw very cold, hot temperatures. And of course, we have a landscape that has seen 30 years of drought. This is truly the bellwether for climate change on the West Coast. And this is a wake-up call for all of us that we have got to do everything in our power to tackle climate change.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Governor, I understand that’s your conviction. I know four former Oregon lawmakers have written an op-ed in The Washington Post, though, saying you can’t blame climate change. Instead, it’s a failure of your state government to prepare and that warnings were ignored regarding mismanagement of Oregon’s forests. What is your response to that?
GOV. BROWN: Well, I stood up a fire council about two and a half years ago. Folks came together, Republicans, Democrats, to tackle the issues. The council had an extensive report and called for extensive investments in our communities, harvesting and thinning. Unfortunately, the Republicans walked away from the legislative session and we were unable to get that done. But I would say this, it’s both. It’s decades of mismanagement of our forests in this country, and it is the failure to tackle climate change. We need to do both. And we can.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We now know because of these fires all along the West Coast that Oregon has the worst air quality in the world. How are you keeping residents and your firefighters safe from this health threat and COVID at the same time?
GOV. BROWN: So we stood up our COVID modules early on. We were obviously aware that this could be a challenging fire season and our Oregon Health Authority, our Department of Forestry and our state fire marshal office came together early to develop these COVID modules. We’ve had thousands of firefighters helping fight fire in Oregon the past several weeks. The good news is so far we’ve seen no incidences of COVID. They’ve had to basically recreate our entire firefighting systems and they’ve done a phenomenal job. And doing that while working extremely hard, taking heroic efforts to save the lives of Oregonians across the state.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You’ve had thousands of people have to evacuate, some potentially left homeless. Your state is one of those automatically sending ballots to voters at their home address. So how is this going to affect voting in the upcoming election?
GOV. BROWN: I just have to say, I was at the state fairgrounds yesterday. I met Red Cross volunteers, one of them, Brandi, she had to evacuate her family before she could come to work for the Red Cross. I met a couple who had also been evacuated. They were paying it forward. They were helping their fellow Oregonians by serving food and volunteering at the state fairgrounds. So Oregonians have done a phenomenal job helping out, stepping up for each other like we always do.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Will they be able to vote?
GOV. BROWN: In terms of voting–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Go ahead.
GOV. BROWN: In terms of voting, we were the first state in the country to be vote by mail. We have systems in place. I’m confident that our secretary of state is working hard as we speak to make sure that every eligible Oregonian gets a ballot. And we’ll make sure they have the opportunity to participate in this election. In Oregon,–
MARGARET BRENNAN: In-person if needed?
GOV. BROWN: –we believe that your vote is your voice and every single voice matters.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And in-person if needed, to be clear?
GOV. BROWN: Absolutely. We continue to allow folks to vote in person if needed.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Wonderful. Governor, thank you very much for your time and good luck to you.