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She was the first woman to win state constitutional office as secretary of state, also state schools superintendent.

COURTESY PHOTO: THOMAS LE NGO - Oregon's former Secretary of State Norma Paulus died Thursday, Feb. 28. She was 85.Tributes are being paid to Norma Paulus, one of the first women to win statewide office in Oregon, who died Thursday, Feb. 28, at age 85.

She was in a hospice and had vascular dementia during the past few years. A memorial service is scheduled April 27 in Smith Auditorium at Willamette University in Salem, where she earned her law degree.

Paulus was the first woman to win statewide constitutional office when she was elected secretary of state in 1976 and re-elected in 1980. She was the first non-educator to become state schools superintendent in 1990, when voters still elected that position, and re-elected in 1994.

Paulus made losing bids for governor in 1986 — she lost to Democrat Neil Goldschmidt, 52 percent to 48 percent — and the Republican nomination for U.S. senator in 1996.

She was a Republican state representative from Marion County from 1971 until she was elected secretary of state.

Jackie Winters, now a state senator from Salem, was an assistant to Gov. Tom McCall when Paulus was elected to the Oregon House.

"Norma was such an inspiration to me during my time in the executive branch, and was a role model as I decided to seek elected office She paved the way for so many women in Oregon as the first Republican woman elected to statewide office," Winters said in a statement.

"She was a trailblazer and a true force to be reckoned with. Norma was a neighbor, a dear friend, a mentor, an inspiration, and a true servant to all Oregonians. I will miss her deeply."

Ginny Burdick of Portland, now the Senate majority leader, was a news reporter during the 1975 legislative session before Paulus made her run for statewide office.

"Norma Paulus came from humble beginnings and was determined to be successful, working through law school and achieving victories as a woman in a field at the time dominated by men," Burdick said in a statement. "She was an inspiration to women leaders throughout Oregon. She was ahead of her time, and I will miss her."

Gov. Kate Brown, who was secretary of state from 2009 until she became governor in 2015, offered her own tribute.

"Norma Paulus was a pioneer who shattered glass ceilings in Oregon," Brown said in a tweet.

"As the first women elected to statewide office in Oregon, she paved the way for so many of us to one day run for public office. Dan and I celebrate her life and legacy, and wish her family comfort during this time."

Her husband, Bill Paulus, died of brain cancer in 1999. The Salem-Keizer School District, for which Paulus was a longtime lawyer, named an administrative building in his honor.

She is survived by a daughter, Liz; a son, Fritz; a sister, Gerri Pyrch, a brother, Paul Petersen, and one grandson.

A biography, "The Only Woman in the Room: The Norma Paulus Story," was published in 2017 based on recollections by Paulus and work by Gail Wells and Patricia McCord Amacher.

Pioneering politics

Paulus grew up in Burns — she was Norma Petersen then — and graduated from high school in 1950. She had polio when she was 19 but recovered.

She never went to college, but through a family connection, she ended up in Salem, where she was a secretary for Earl Latourette, who was chief justice of the Oregon Supreme Court.

She earned her law degree from Willamette University in 1962 without earning a bachelor's degree. She married Bill Paulus; they met in law school.

Eight years later, after helping others in their campaigns, she sought an Oregon House seat being vacated by Wallace Carson, who won a bid for the Oregon Senate. Back then, House members ran in districts that covered one county or several counties; Oregon converted to single-member districts in 1971.

Paulus recalled in a 2005 interview with the Statesman Journal that the mayor of Silverton back then agreed to endorse her, but would not campaign with her publicly as she walked downtown, because of her gender.

Though she disavowed the label of feminist, Paulus stood up for women's rights and the Equal Rights Amendment — the Oregon Legislature ratified it twice, but it never became part of the U.S. Constitution — and many other causes that often put her at odds with her own party.

She joined other women in the House, notably Vera Katz and Gretchen Kafoury, both Portland Democrats.

She also stood up for Oregon's statewide planning law, which Gov. McCall championed and the Legislature passed in 1973 as Senate Bill 100.

She was from the wing of the Republican Party that produced U.S. Sens. Mark Hatfield and Bob Packwood, and later Gov. Vic Atiyeh and Attorney General Dave Frohnmayer.

Statewide office

Paulus won her bid for statewide office in 1976, when she succeeded Clay Myers as secretary of state. The only other woman to win statewide at that point was Maurine Neuberger, a Democrat elected in 1960 to the U.S. Senate seat once held by her husband, who died before the filing deadline that year.

During her tenure as secretary of state, Paulus championed audits of state agencies, and in 1981, won legislative approval for the use of mail-in ballots that are now standard statewide. (They became standard for local elections by 1989, and voters approved a 1998 initiative to extend their use to primary and general elections.)

Paulus also helped Wasco County steer through the 1984 crisis during which the Rajneeshees sought a political takeover by busing in people to register to vote.

Although Paulus was seen as the favorite to succeed Atiyeh as governor in 1986 — she led public opinion surveys by 10 points two months before the general election — she lost to Goldschmidt in a campaign that set fundraising records.

As state schools superintendent — the first non-educator to win that job in 1990 — Paulus championed more funding coupled with academic performance standards developed under a 1991 law. She did so although she was often at odds with the Oregon Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union. (The standards have since been shelved.)

"She was an amazing and effective leader who never lost her easy smile," Val Hoyle, the elected state labor commissioner, said in a statement.

"Through hard work and competency, she paved the way for and inspired others. We would not have women in a majority of Oregon's statewide elected executive offices today, if not for women like her."

She made a bid for the U.S. Senate seat Packwood vacated by his resignation in 1995, but lost a three-way primary to Gordon Smith, who went on to lose to Democrat Ron Wyden. Smith won Hatfield's open seat in 1996.

After she left elected office in 1999, Paulus moved to Portland when she became executive director of the Oregon Historical Society. She held that job from 2001 to 2003.

House Republicans issued a statement: "We are saddened by the loss of a towering figure in Oregon politics. We remember Norma Paulus who served the people as a legislator, superintendent of schools, and as secretary of state."

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NOTE: Corrects when she graduated from high school and had polio.


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