Barbara Roberts

Barbara Kay Roberts (née Hughey; born December 21, 1936) is an American politician from the state of Oregon. A native of the state, she served as the 34th Governor of Oregon from 1991 to 1995. She was the first woman to serve as Oregon governor, and the only woman elected to that office until 2016.[1] A Democrat, Roberts was also the first woman to serve as majority leader in the Oregon House of Representatives. She also won two terms as Oregon Secretary of State, and served in local and county government in Portland. Roberts was married to Oregon state Sen. Frank L. Roberts from 1974 until his death in 1993. From February 2011[2] until January 2013, she served on the council of Metro, the regional government in the Portland metropolitan area.[3]

Barbara Roberts
Governor Barbara Roberts.jpg
34th Governor of Oregon
In office
January 14, 1991 – January 9, 1995
Preceded byNeil Goldschmidt
Succeeded byJohn Kitzhaber
21st Secretary of State of Oregon
In office
January 7, 1985 – January 14, 1991
GovernorVictor Atiyeh
Neil Goldschmidt
Preceded byNorma Paulus
Succeeded byPhil Keisling
Member of the Oregon House of Representatives
from the 17th district
In office
January 1981 – January 1985
Preceded byGeorge Starr
Succeeded byMike Burton
Personal details
Born (1936-12-21) December 21, 1936 (age 84)
Corvallis, Oregon, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Neal Sanders
(m. 1954; div. 1972)

(m. 1974; died 1993)
EducationPortland State University (BA)

Early lifeEdit

Roberts was born Barbara Kay Hughey on December 21, 1936, in Corvallis, Oregon, to Bob and Carmen Murray Hughey. Her father, a millworker, was a descendant of Oregon Trail pioneers.[4] The Hugheys' second daughter Pat was born a few years later and then they moved to Los Angeles, California in 1940 where her father worked as a machinist. Following World War II, the Hugheys returned to Oregon, settling in Gold Creek in Yamhill County in 1945, and then finally in Sheridan.[4]

In 1954, she married her high-school sweetheart Neal Sanders, graduating the following year from Sheridan High School.[4] The couple moved to Texas, where they had two children, Mike and Mark, before returning to Oregon several years later, settling in Portland where she attended Portland State University from 1961 to 1964.[5]

With her older son, Mike, diagnosed in 1962 as "severely emotionally disturbed" (later identified as autism), she became an advocate for special-needs children. In 1971, she successfully lobbied the Oregon State Legislature to require public schools to guarantee educational rights to these children.[5][6] In 1972, her marriage to Neal ended in divorce.[4]

Political careerEdit

In 1973, she was elected to Parkrose School Board and, later, to the Mount Hood Community College board.[5][7] In 1974, she married Oregon state representative and later state senator Frank L. Roberts, who became her political mentor. In 1981, she was elected to the Oregon House of Representatives as a Democrat, was re-elected in 1983, and was elected Majority Leader, Oregon's first woman to hold that post.[5]

Secretary of StateEdit

In 1984, Roberts was elected as Oregon Secretary of State, the first Democrat elected to that post in over 100 years, and was re-elected in 1988. Her significant achievements as Secretary of State include election-reform legislation, the construction of a new state archives building, and broader audit powers for the Secretary of State. The Portland Gay Men's Chorus sang at her inauguration. It is widely believed that this was the first time that a gay-identified chorus sang for the inauguration of a statewide elected official of any state.[4] During her second term, Roberts attended an executive program at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.[4][5]


Shortly after incumbent Democratic Gov. Neil Goldschmidt announced that he would not seek a second term as governor, Roberts announced her candidacy in the 1990 Oregon gubernatorial election.[4] She ran unopposed in the Democratic primary and went on to defeat Republican Attorney General David B. Frohnmayer and Independent Al Mobley in the November general election, and became the first woman elected Governor of Oregon. During that same election, voters passed Ballot Measure 5, which established constitutional limits on property-tax rates.

During her term as governor, Roberts worked with the Clinton administration to secure federal waivers and funding for the Oregon Health Plan. She also helped to increase the number of children in the Head Start Program, secured financing for additional units of affordable housing, and developed programs to help move Oregonians from welfare to the workplace. The Roberts administration was known for its strong support of gay rights and appointed women to positions in state government.

Her husband, Frank L. Roberts, died in 1993 from prostate cancer while she was still governor. After his death, Barbara Roberts wrote the book Death Without Denial Grief Without Apology: A Guide for Facing Death and Loss.[8]

There were several factors that were responsible for Roberts' decision not to seek re-election in 1994. They included her low approval rating with the voters, as well as voters' refusal to pass a measure to enact a sales tax which would have funded the Oregon Health Plan. As a result of the failed sales tax measure, Roberts was forced to break her campaign promise not to cut spending.

Later life and familyEdit

Roberts with Terry Bean in 2014

Soon after she left office, Roberts accepted a position at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University as director of the Harvard Program for Senior Executives in State and Local Government and later as a senior fellow to the Women and Public Policy Program. In 1998, Roberts joined Portland State University's Hatfield School of Government's Executive Leadership Institute as Associate Director of Leadership Development.[9]

Roberts has continued her community service, sitting on the board of trustees for several major nonprofit organizations, including the Oregon Hospice Association, the Human Rights Campaign, and the advisory council of Oregon's Compassion in Dying. She has also maintained an active public speaking career, addressing issues of death and grieving, leadership, women in politics, and environmental stewardship.[10] Roberts has two sons, Mark and Mike.

Roberts High School in Salem, Oregon, was named after her in 1996.[9]

Return to government serviceEdit

In early 2011, Roberts returned to government service, as a member of the six-person Metro council, the Portland metropolitan area's elected regional government, after Robert Liberty resigned in January from his position as councillor representing Metro district 6. Roberts was appointed to the council in February to fill the remainder (about 22 months) of Liberty's four-year term, by a vote of the council.[11] Although Metro council positions are publicly elected offices, an election is not required when filling a council vacancy in mid-term. She was sworn in on February 24, 2011.[2] Metro district 6 includes portions of Northeast, Southeast and Southwest Portland. She indicated that she would not be a candidate for the position when it next came due for election, in May 2012,[11] and Bob Stacey was elected to the district 6 seat at that time.[12] Roberts' council term ended, and Stacey succeeded her, in January 2013.[3]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Note: Kate Brown became governor in 2015 following the resignation of John Kitzhaber; she was elected in 2016.
  2. ^ a b Mortenson, Eric (February 25, 2011). "Metro names attorney as acting chief operating officer; Barbara Roberts sworn in". The Oregonian. Retrieved July 1, 2011.
  3. ^ a b "Three Metro Councilors will be sworn in at Monday inauguration". Metro. January 4, 2013. Retrieved January 6, 2014.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Roberts, Barbara (2011). Up the Capitol Steps: A Woman's March to the Governorship. Corvallis, Oregon: Oregon State University Press. ISBN 978-0-87071-610-2.
  5. ^ a b c d e "Governor Barbara Roberts". Oregon Historical Society. Retrieved November 6, 2011.
  6. ^ Kirchmeier, Mark (November 2, 2011). "My Name is Barbara". Willamette Week. Retrieved November 7, 2011.
  7. ^ "Barbara Roberts". National Governors Association. Retrieved November 7, 2011.
  8. ^ Barbara K. Roberts (February 25, 2002). Death Without Denial Grief Without Apology: A Guide for Facing Death and Loss. New Sage Press. ISBN 0-939165-43-0. Retrieved 2006-12-11.
  9. ^ a b "Hatfield School staff biography". Archived from the original on 2005-03-14. Retrieved 2005-12-11.
  10. ^ "Death Without Denial Grief Without Apology". New Sage Press (Official website). New Sage Press. 2002. Archived from the original on 17 November 2006. Retrieved 2006-12-11.
  11. ^ a b Mortenson, Eric (February 17, 2011). "Former Oregon Gov. Barbara Roberts appointed to Metro Council". The Oregonian. Retrieved July 1, 2011.
  12. ^ Mortenson, Eric (May 12, 2012). "Bob Stacey wins position on Metro Council; Sam Chase and Craig Dirksen join him (2012 primary election)". The Oregonian. Retrieved January 6, 2014.

External linksEdit

Political offices
Preceded by
Norma Paulus
Secretary of State of Oregon
Succeeded by
Phil Keisling
Preceded by
Neil Goldschmidt
Governor of Oregon
Succeeded by
John Kitzhaber
Party political offices
Preceded by
Neil Goldschmidt
Democratic nominee for Governor of Oregon
Succeeded by
John Kitzhaber