By editorial board • 

Governor’s clemency crusade violates all sense of decency

Early on, we became deeply disappointed in Kate Brown's stewardship of the governor's office she inherited from John Kitzhaber in 2015.

We found her secretive, autocratic, partisan and uncommunicative. We found her prone to corner-cutting, overreach and disregard for the separation of powers doctrine that makes the executive branch co-equal to the legislative branch.

Her pending departure in a virtually unprecedented flurry of commutations and pardons — some of them seeking to extend clemency far into the future, long after she has become just another private citizen — does nothing to dispel that.

Her actions remind us of one of the most unlikely of political bedfellows — Donald J. Trump. And that should not, in any respect, be considered a compliment.

Trump was also secretive and autocratic and partisan. He also brushed aside legislative authority and separation of powers in a high-handed fashion. He also left office in a flurry of clemency actions, though his were based more on his own financial, legal, political and personal interests than the scales of justice.

During her first four years as governor, when she most needed to preserve political capital in pursuit of policy initiatives, Brown issued a grand total of 25 pardons and five commutations, all on a carefully considered case-by-case basis.

Since, she has 35 pardons and 1,144 commutations, many on a mass basis. And only legal action by the Lane and Linn county district attorneys has kept her from continuing on down the clemency trail in the final months of her term. What's more, she has granted an opportunity for future clemency to another 140 inmates, who are still too early in their terms at present. 

In contrast, Kitzhaber and Ted Kulongoski combined to grant 22 pardons and 61 commutations over the preceding 20 years, Kulongoski accounting for most of them.

We grant that Brown issued 912 of her commutations in response to the pandemic, which was ravaging the state's correctional system at the time. They were reserved for medically vulnerable inmates who had completed at least half of a sentence handed down for a property crime. Other states were also furloughing inmates on COVID grounds, though not necessarily on such a grand scale.

We also grant that 41 went to inmates who volunteered for hazardous wildland firefighting duty. Brown deemed them not to "present an unacceptable safety, security or compliance risk."

However, we take exception to the governor's penchant for granting clemency petitions from the Criminal Justice Reform Clinic at Lewis & Clark College, where she earned her law degree. We take even greater exception to her blanket grant of clemency and prospective future clemency, largely at the instigation of reform clinic director Aliza Kaplan, to inmates convicted of murder, manslaughter, rape, robbery and other Measure 11 felonies before they turned 18.

The 2019 Oregon Legislature passed a measure giving juveniles convicted of Measure 11 crimes the right, going forward, to petition for clemency release after completing 15 years of prison time. However, even with lopsided Democratic majorities in both chambers, the Legislature declined to make the change retroactive.

At Kaplan's urging, Brown essentially decided, on her own volition, to overrule the voters who enacted Measure 11 in the first place and the legislators who refused a retroactive easing for juveniles. So she commuted the sentences of those who had already put in 15 years and offered the rest a clemency hearing when they reach that point.

She almost never speaks for herself, but her office said, "Gov. Brown believes we must put more emphasis on preventing crime and rehabilitating youth than on hard punishments and lengthy and costly prison sentences." So there you have it — because "Gov. Brown believes."

Adding to the outrage this fanned, the governor failed to notify murder, rape and robbery victims in advance, so many of them, along with their friends and families, got the first word through media postings. That came even though Oregon victim rights law specifically mandates notice when release of suspects is being contemplated — one of the points the district attorneys are raising in the lawsuit.

Our county generated a Kaplan clemency petition currently in limbo — that of Lynley Rayburn, a then 20-something meth user convicted in the heinous and pointless execution of home invasion victim Dale Rost. And it raises another grave issue.

The petition claims Rayburn was just an innocent bystander unable to prevent her boyfriend from committing the murder. But police reports indicate she personally stripped Rost of his clothing, tied him up up with a dog leash and demanded Smith shoot him to death, as she feared being identified.

Berry termed the petition either "intentionally deceitful or grossly mistaken," serving to introduce yet another disturbing element into this sad saga.


David S. Wall

Gosh Editorial Board, perhaps all of you should start reading the Text of many pieces of Legislation emanating from the Office of the Governor.

To me, The Editorial Board acts (and writes) like crybabies in need of a wet-nurse or two.

David S. Wall

Jeb Bladine


Someone might want to respond if only you could explain what you are saying. What is the legislation from the Governor's Office you would like the editorial board to read? Are you standing up fully being the convicted criminals proposed to receive clemency and suggesting the commentary is crying inappropriately about them? After there other missing elements to your comment?

The N-R definitely is interested in feedback about what it produces, but only if staff can understand the comments.

Bill B

I don't often agree with the Editorial Board, but on this subject, I'm in total agreement.


We deserve the government we elect. Kate Brown has no regard for the citizens of this state, at least the ones who do not follow her ideological leanings.

The last two years have been prime examples of that. Riots that she stood by and allowed have financially destroyed downtown Portland for the next twenty years. There’s a thousand domino effects that are coming home to roost for pdx and the state from the actions of city and state government.

The absolute criminal, my opinion, management of state services. An unemployment department that destroyed the finances of thousands of Oregon families due to incompetence, dereliction of duty, etc. true, she inherited the unemployment system but she signed on when she took the responsibility of swearing in as governor. Where is the $89 million that was budgeted for the infrastructure replacement a dozen years ago? Has it been fixed yet? Has anybody asked?

And with all of the finger pointing at President Trump for the pandemic, if I’m not mistaken, it’s the states emergency management that responds for its citizens. How did the state do? How did the governor do? Did we have supplies we needed?

This is just my personal rant, but there are many more opportunities for discovery over her long state political career.

Why would her latest actions surprise you?