Roberts was elected Governor of the State of Oregon in November of 1990, becoming not only the first woman governor of her state but also one of the first ten female governors in the nation. During her four year term (1991-1995), Roberts was recognized as a strong advocate for environmental management, for human rights and civil rights, and for creative workforce development. She also became a nationally acknowledged leader in the field of government redesign and reinvention.
In 1993, Oregon was recognized by Financial World Magazine as the 7th best managed state in the nation. The National Alliance for Business also recognized Oregon as State of the Year in 1991 for her administration’s new workforce and education innovations. In 1994, the state won the prestigious Innovations in Government Award from the Ford Foundation and the Kennedy School of Government in recognition of the nationally acclaimed Oregon Benchmarks program. Roberts used the Benchmarks’ measurable goals as an integral part of her budgeting and planning efforts during her term.
Roberts worked with the Clinton Administration to secure federal waivers to implement the Oregon Health Plan, and she successfully pushed for state funding for the plan and for immediate start-up coverage. More than 140,000 Oregonians were insured under the new health plan after the first year of implementation.
During her four-year term Roberts doubled the number of children under Oregon’s state-paid Head Start program and also established a Housing Trust Fund that financed thousands of new units of affordable housing. She led the efforts that funded and expanded programs that helped more than 19,000 Oregonians move from welfare to the workplace and to self-sufficiency, insisting on extra support for child care and health insurance for these new workers.
Roberts led funding efforts for the expansion of the light rail line linking Multnomah County to Washington County in the Portland Metropolitan area. As a Multnomah County Commissioner in 1978, she was one of the necessary votes to begin construction on the fifteen-mile light rail line from Portland to Gresham. One of the light rail cars is named in her honor. Her belief that environmental responsibility and economic health can exist side-by-side, was strengthened during her four year tenure as state CEO. When Roberts finished her term, Oregon had the lowest unemployment in 25 years and the highest investment in the state’s history while preserving Oregon’s comprehensive land use system, stopping construction of two unnecessary dams, and supporting the Endangered Species Act and the Clinton Forest Plan.
Roberts’ “Conversation with Oregon” allowed her to use interactive television to speak with thousands of Oregonians on government, taxes, and state priorities. She also used this same educational television system to speak with thousands of Oregon teen-agers on the subject of teen pregnancy prevention. Both efforts were national “firsts.”
Prior to being elected governor, Roberts was elected Oregon Secretary of State, serving from 1985-1991. In Oregon the Secretary of State also serves as Lt. Governor and State Auditor. She was a member of the Oregon House of Representative from 1981-1985 and served as Majority Leader in 1983 and 1984. Roberts also served as a county commissioner, elected school board member for 10 years and a community college board member for a four year term. She began her public service as a citizen advocate for disabled children as she fought for the educational rights of her autistic son before the Oregon Legislature in 1971.
Following her time as Governor of Oregon, Roberts held a position at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government for four years where she served as Director of the State and Local Government Executive Programs. She was also a Senior Fellow at the Harvard Women and Public Policy Program.
Roberts returned to Oregon in 1998 taking a position at Portland State University’s Hatfield School of Government. At the Hatfield School she served for five years as the Associate Director of Leadership until her retirement in early 2005.
Roberts is an active public speaker now focusing on issues of leadership, women in politics, environmental stewardship, and death and grieving. Her book “Death Without Denial, Grief Without Apology” was released in 2002 and has received positive reviews from the press and public. The book was released in the fall of 2004 in its Japanese translation. She is now working on her second book, an in-depth autobiography.
A descendent of Oregon Trail pioneers and a fourth generation Oregonian, Roberts was married to the late State Sen. Frank Roberts. She has two adult sons, two grandchildren ages 21 and 18, and 14 step-grandchildren ages 3 years to 29 years, including eight Chinese-born grandchildren. All of her children and grandchildren live in the Portland area.