Our Stories

Growing a Green Economy

Brian Shipley '96 has two cell phones attached to his waist, one for important calls, and one for really important calls. He needs them both.

As "stimulus czar of Oregon," the governor's deputy chief of staff has been charged with overseeing the expenditure of the state's $3.9 billion share of the federal economic stimulus package. He met with President Barack Obama for a strategy session in the White House, and hasn't slept much since, counting dollars instead of sheep in the long hours of the night, mentally tracking every dollar across every department.

The names in the Shipley family Bible trace back to Gustavus Hines, who not only helped found Willamette University, but also helped form the first provisional government in Oregon. According to one historian, Hines possessed a "voice of great compass and force," along with "intellect of more than ordinary power." His legacy is memorialized in a mural at the Oregon State Capitol.

Shipley works under that mural every day, and yes, he's a chip off that block in terms of intellect and moral compass.

The politics and environmental science graduate is rumored to have been perhaps the best debater in one and a half centuries at Willamette, helping the Willamette Debate Union win back-to-back national season sweepstakes. "My experience with debate - with its research, analysis and communication components - is key to everything I've been able to accomplish since," Shipley says.

Under the mentorship of Professors Robert Trapp, Joe Bowersox, Richard Ellis and Bob Hawkinson, Shipley created his own educational experience at Willamette. Every spare minute outside the classroom was spent immersing himself in the minutiae of governance as an intern at the capitol, and he often managed to bridge the two worlds. For example, his senior thesis about campaign finance laws was based on research he did for the Oregon secretary of state.

After graduating from Georgetown University Law School in Washington, D.C., where he ranked first in a class of 625 his first year, Shipley was inundated with offers from prestigious law firms. But lured by memories of working at the Oregon State Capitol, he headed back to Salem, where he took a position as a legislative assistant. "I made a conscious decision to get back into public service in that building," he says.

From that humble position, Shipley's impeccable political skills, intellectual depth, professional integrity and moral compass set the foundation for a trajectory to the highest levels of Oregon governance. He was soon serving as senior policy advisor to the senate president, and then chief of staff for the senate majority leader, and finally deputy chief of staff for Gov. Ted Kulongoski, where he currently oversees the governor's energy, natural resources and climate change policies. The package of bills he helped craft is now being adopted by other states eager to follow Oregon's lead in developing renewable energy solutions and a "green" economy.  

As stimulus czar, Shipley is required to juggle a lot of balls, and keep them all in the air simultaneously. "President Obama charged state leaders with producing the results the nation is counting on," Shipley says, "and charged us with giving the stimulus program a historic level of public transparency and accountability to match the historic public investment." Still mindful of the environmental science courses he took at Willamette, Shipley is implementing the governor's plans to invest not just in short-term job growth, but also to develop an infrastructure based on sustainability.

The deputy chief of staff likes operating behind the scenes, and doesn't anticipate running for office, short of a potential run for the school board after he retires. But that won't be for a long time - Shipley, amazingly enough, is only 34 years old.

"I'm very fortunate to have been in so many right places at the right times," he says, "and Willamette definitely set me up for success. The first time I set foot on campus, I fell in love with the school. I never applied anywhere else."

His advice for current students? "Take advantage of having the capitol right across the street. A big part of what I do today came from immersing myself in every office and every experience I could. Every opportunity pays off."

And this: "Democracy is about government by the people, so be one of those people and get involved."