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Up the Capitol Steps

A Woman's March to the Governorship

Barbara Roberts

Publication Year: 2011

Up the Capitol Steps is a personal and political memoir by Oregon’s first (and only) woman governor, one of only 34 women who have served as state chief executives in the history of the United States. Barbara Roberts offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse of a woman’s life in politics and aims to “demystify” leadership by telling the story of her own unlikely rise to power.

The mother of an autistic child before the advent of special education, Roberts began her life in public service as an advocate for the rights of children with disabilities. She documents her expanding political career from school board member to legislator to Secretary of State and finally, Governor. In this gripping and poignant memoir, hotly contested elections and tough policy decisions are interspersed with intimate details of personal ups and downs. Throughout, Roberts reveals the warmth and humor that show the “real” person behind the politician.

Only the third published memoir by a woman head-of-state, Up the Capitol Steps is “a very significant contribution to Oregon history, the history of women in politics, and especially the history of women governors,” according to series editor Melody Rose. Roberts’ autobiography captures a period of our nation’s political history and a view of women’s expanding role in government that will bring new understanding to the term, “social revolution.”

Published by: Oregon State University Press


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pp. v-vi


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pp. viii-ix

After more than five years of writing, research, editing, and rewriting to finish this book, the list of those who supported and assisted me has grown long—and longer. Early on, when the book was still a dream, two women were there...

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pp. x

I was the first woman governor in my native state of Oregon and among the first ten women elected governor in the United States of America. I hold a place in history, yet even now, after twenty years, there is a sense of nonreality about my life adventure....

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Chapter 1: The Bombshell

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pp. 1-4

I tentatively picked up the seven sheets of yellow legal paper and reread the memo—the memo to myself. Not really a memo, I guess, but mental wanderings in an as-yet-secret world of my own political fantasy. These were the pages of both personal and political thoughts...

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Chapter 2: Small-town Girl

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pp. 5-13

Few acts of chance have more influence on our lives than the family we are born into. I was one lucky little girl! I was born in Corvallis, Oregon, on the first day of winter, December 21, 1936. I was born into a household filled with love and...

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Chapter 3: Growing Up Fast

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pp. 14-25

I loved high school! It was a wonderful period of my life. I frequently hear adults lament the misery of their high school experience, and they say they never intend to be part of a class reunion or relive their teen years. That’s not me. Those were wonderful years for me...

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Chapter 4: The Tough Years Begin

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pp. 26-30

1962 is one of the years in my life that carries so many sad memories that I want to turn away from recording it on paper. This was the year that began a sea change in my life that was not to be reversed for many years, and in some cases the hurt would never be completely...

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Chapter 5: The Tough Years Continue

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pp. 31-38

After searching out every option for Mike in both Oregon and Washington, there seemed to be only two choices available in 1962, one in each state, but the State of Washington’s residential mental health program for children had no vacancies. The Parry Center for...

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Chapter 6: Staying Afloat

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pp. 39-48

As 1971 began, I had big choices on my platter: to lobby or not to lobby; to cut my income from five days to four days per week; to go with my head or my heart? Senate Bill 699 was ready. The question was: was I? My job was to stay emotionally and financially afloat. My...

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Chapter 7: Climbing the Ladder

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pp. 49-51

In the spring of 1973, I was elected to the Parkrose School Board. I had challenged a longtime male member of the board, and it was an unusually active campaign for an unpaid position in a small suburban school district. A number of parents who were long established in...

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Chapter 8: Frank Roberts, a New Love

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pp. 52-60

Frank and I had become friends—mostly political friends, I guess. The tremendous help he had given to me as he mentored me through the successful legislative passage of Senate Bill 699 in 1971 had given us a bond of mutual accomplishment. We saw each other at Democratic...

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Chapter 9: A New Political Partnership

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pp. 61-71

When I arrived for our July 1974 school board meeting, there was a fun, sweet surprise for me. The school superintendent opened the meeting by removing my “Barbara Sanders” name plate from the board table and ceremoniously replacing it with a brand-new...

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Chapter 10: County Commissioner Roberts

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pp. 72-82

After the 1977 legislative session ended I found I was struggling with some medical challenges, not serious ones, not new for me, but challenges none the less. My physician felt the time had come for major female surgery. She scheduled a hysterectomy for early...

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Chapter 11: "A Woman's Place Is in the House"

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pp. 83-101

After three legislative sessions on Frank’s Senate staff plus almost a year as Multnomah County Commissioner, I began to actually see myself as a future voting member of the Legislature. I desperately wanted to run in 1980 but I had two serious hurdles, or more accurately...

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Chapter 12: Jumping Off the High Board

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pp. 102-118

Well, here I was moving into the office of the House Majority Leader! Instead of my former legislative office with dividers outside my private office door that allowed desk space for each of my two-member staff, I was excitedly moving into my big private office...

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Chapter 13: 110 Years

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pp. 119-130

In the summer of 1984, the Oregon press was definitely interested in a two-woman general election race for Secretary of State. It was the first time in Oregon history that the two major party candidates for a statewide race were both female. So often competitions between...

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Chapter 14: Secretary of State

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pp. 131-156

Election night is all about waiting, watching, nail biting, pacing, and moving between frowns and smiles. It is about early returns, political speculation, wine and cheese, hugs and hope. On November 6, 1984, for me, election night was about winning...

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Chapter 15: Transitions: Public and Private

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pp. 157-165

On the early afternoon of March 9, 1989, I received an excited call from my son Mark. He was taking his wife to Woodland Park Hospital with increasing labor pains. They had asked me to be present in the birth center room with them for the birth of their first child. I was...

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Chapter 16: Short Notice, Tall Order

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pp. 166-184

One of my most remarkable life changes came as a brief telephone call on a Sunday evening. It was February 4, 1990. Frank and I were home at our Salem condo. We had an overnight houseguest visiting. The three of us had just finished dinner and were savoring a glass of wine...

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Chapter 17: Strategizing Toward Victory

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pp. 185-207

In the summer of 1990, while we secretly waited for our August television buys to go on the air, policy issues and campaign matters were bouncing off every surface. It reminded me of the movie title, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. In the “good” category, I had...

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Chapter 18: The Win

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pp. 208-216

As I opened my eyes on Tuesday morning, the reality hit me. Election Day! November 6, 1990! This was potentially a day that would change my life. And, three hours later, as if to put that possibility into CAPITAL LETTERS, two Oregon State Police officers pulled...

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Chapter 19: Preparing for Inauguration

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pp. 217-234

On Monday, November 12, as the new week began, my first full week as Governor-Elect, I was reminded of a quote I had once read by Governor Bob Straub of Oregon (1975-79): “The governor’s job is so big because it involves thousands of state employees, a large number...

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Chapter 20: An Agenda of Change

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pp. 235-264

On my first official morning in the office as Oregon’s new Governor, I met with Senate President John Kitzhaber (D) and Speaker of the House Larry Campbell (R) at 8 a.m. for our first of many joint briefings and discussions about the budget and legislative priorities...

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Chapter 21: Challenges and Controversies

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pp. 265-306

On October 17, Attorney General Dave Frohnmayer announced he would be resigning his office on January 1, 1992, to become Dean of the University of Oregon School of Law. Before his election as attorney general, Dave had been on the law school faculty for ten years. This...

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Chapter 22: Personal Struggles

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pp. 307-328

In my private role as wife, I was struggling as Frank’s quality of life began to diminish. He was starting to be short of breath on occasion, the strength of his voice was noticeably diminishing, and his pain level was increasing. He tired more easily and, had it not been for his...

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Chapter 23: New Tests and New Transitions

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pp. 329-357

As 1994 began, Pat’s chemo and radiation treatments were leaving her weak and with a number of negative side effects. I sometimes joined her at the hospital during her treatments, hoping this extra support would make these tough days somewhat easier. For the...

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Chapter 24: Good Guys with Guns

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pp. 358-363

There are several questions I was asked hundreds of times about being governor: 1. Did you like living in the governor’s mansion? 2. Did you get paid a lot of money for being the governor? (This is the question that children in the classroom always ask!)...

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Chapter 25: The Next Step

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pp. 364-378

With all the attention and recapping that comes as one leaves the position of governor, there is some sense that you may have died rather than simply finished a four-year term in office. Editorials, celebration dinners, speeches, flowers, media coverage, notes, hugs—it goes...

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Chapter 26: Home to Oregon

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pp. 379-388

Here I was, back home. I had come home to the state of my birth, the state of my Oregon Trail ancestors, the state of my governorship. My heart was full. Yet, a full heart can cause one to be extra vulnerable to pain. I...

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Chapter 27: A Decade Alone

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pp. 389-396

My big old house felt very empty with Mike gone. I started watching in my neighborhood for something smaller. I wasn’t rushed. I could certainly wait until the right property showed up. In June I received a telephone call from the chair of the Multnomah...

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Chapter 28: Senior Statesperson

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pp. 397-407

There are some unique lessons associated with being a state’s governor. Some years ago, former Oregon Governor Victor Atiyeh (1979-1987) related a charming thought to me. “Once you have been the Governor of Oregon, the people own you forever.” And believe me, there is...

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Epilogue: A Few Final Thoughts on Family, Friends, and Feminism

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pp. 408-412

I grew up in a home filled with love that set the standard of caring for the rest of my life. My parents, Bob and Carmen Hughey, gave me unconditional love. My sister, Pat, added beauty, sharing, and laughter. The joy...

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Appendix: Looking Back: Four Years of Accomplishment

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pp. 413-416

This line from my inaugural address still describes my view of leadership and feels apropos to my work, my struggles, my commitment, and my successes in the one term I served: “Each generation has but one chance to be judged by future generations, and this is our time.”...


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pp. 417-431


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pp. 432-438

E-ISBN-13: 9780870716492
E-ISBN-10: 0870716492
Print-ISBN-13: 9780870716102
Print-ISBN-10: 0870716107

Page Count: 448
Publication Year: 2011