Theodore (Ted) Kulongoski was born in rural Missouri in 1940 and grew up in St. Louis in a Catholic boys’ home. After graduating from high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and upon returning from duty in Southeast Asia, spent a few years as a truck driver and a bricklayer in a steel mill in Alton, Illinois. Those experiences and the availability of the GI Bill gave him the impetus and the financial opportunity to put himself through the University of Missouri, where he earned his undergraduate and law degrees. He served as a judicial clerk in Eugene and then established his own law firm.
Kulongoski is the only governor in Oregon history to have served in all three branches of state government. He was a member of the Oregon House of Representatives (1975-1978) and the Oregon State Senate (1978-1983), where he authored the Oregon Public Employee Collective Bargaining Act. In 1987, he was appointed Oregon insurance commissioner, a position in which he led the reform of the Oregon workers’ compensation system. Elected Oregon attorney general in 1992, he reformed the state juvenile justice system. In 1997, he was elected to the Oregon Supreme Court, where he served until mid-2001.
Kulongoski was sworn in as governor in January 2003 won reelection in 2006. As governor, he reformed Oregon’s budget system, building a principle-based budget designed to establish fiscal stability while delivering measurable returns. He made priority investments in economic development, workforce training, and transportation infrastructure that helped turned Oregon’s economy around.