This November Oregon voters will have a Catch 22 choice to vote for incumbent Governor John Kitzhaber for his 4th term or to vote for a relatively unknown Oregon legislator, Dennis Richardson.
Richardson is a Republican conservative who has slammed Kitzhaber for the botched up rollout of CoverOregon and the failure of the Columbia River Crossing – which turned out to be a bridge to nowhere.
In their first debate before the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association Kitzhaber claimed to have addressed the state’s budget problems on a bi-partisan basis by raising taxes and cutting public employee pensions.
Disgruntled public employee labor unions feel the budget fix was at their members expense but they won’t bolt to vote for Richardson.
Richardson by contrast argues that Kitzhaber wasted millions of dollars and time on the CoverOregon and CRC debacles. He feels Oregon can’t afford four more years of Kitzhaber’s promises.
Republicans, who haven’t won a statewide election since Gordon Smith was re-elected to the US Senate in 2004, concur with Richardson’s opinion.
So why agonize over the prospect of four more years of Kitzhaber enough to consider voting for Richardson, who is a fiscal and social conservative?
First of all, Richardson is correct – Kitzhaber dropped the ball on both CoverOregon and the CRC. More importantly he’s never really admitted these were his failures. Instead he’s deftly put the blame on people like Bruce Goldberg.
But the indictment against Kitzhaber goes deeper that CoverOregon or the CRC. Kitzhaber hired Rudy Crew to manage his other big reform – the transformation of Oregon’s education system K-12 to higher education.
In less than a year, Crew left Oregon with the reform plan in organizational chaos. But more importantly the concept is misguided because it’s based on the false premise that reforming schools can end the achievement gap.
Oregon has been involved in education reform since 1991 with the passage of the Katz Plan, a precursor to No Child Left Behind and the Race to the Top. None of these has ended the achievement gap or the drop out rate.
When 20% of Oregon’s students miss 10% of the school year, something is wrong. Oregon is at the bottom of this list. When only 68% of Oregon’s 2012 class graduate on time, something is wrong – second worse in the USA. (Oregonian, July 27, 2014)
So one has to ask given the failures of CoverOregon, the CRC and education reform why does John Kitzhaber deserve re-election? It’s an important question.
But Kitz supporters say he’s improved Oregon’s economy? The answer is a yes and no.
If you are a member of corporate Oregon Kitzhaber has been your friend – just ask Nike CEO Phil Knight or INTEL. Through Business Oregon Kitzhaber has lavished millions of dollars of tax benefits to such mega big box firms through the Strategic Initiatives Program (SIP) and/or through ConnectOregon.
If you live in the Metro area Kitzhaber’s policies have made it the economic center of Oregon’s hi-tech economy, especially Washington County. But if you live in “the Other” Oregon the economy in rural Oregon has languished for decades due to federal forest policies and to privileging the Metro area. Ask people how things are in Curry County?
But since the Democratic Party has a huge voter registration edge over Republicans and Kitzhaber is raking in the big bucks – even from normally Republican funders like Simpson Lumber – smart money favor a Kitzhaber victory in November despite voter anger over CoverOregon and the CRC debacles.
Richardson claims that Kitzhaber has been out of touch with the legislature preferring to attend a seminar on the economics of happiness in Bhutan during the 2014 short session. Kitzhaber watchers in the Puzzle Palace have often called him a “one trick pony” who embraces concepts, then leaves the details to others.
On the fundamental issue of reforming Oregon’s tax system, Kitzhaber has promised in his previous three terms to do something but then kicked the can saying the time was not right. That still seems to be his mantra. Richardson by contrast feels we have a spending not a taxing problem. Has he visited a K-12 school recently?
On the hot issues of LNG and oil trains, Kitzhaber poses as an environmentalist while one assumes Richardson would favor growing the job base. But neither of them has been that engaged in these issues leaving the playing field to county officials and citizen activists. Neither one seems to be a Tom McCall or Vic Atiyeh.
So at the end of the day I’m faced with a Faustian bargain – vote for an incumbent who I don’t trust but who can be moved by Democratic leaders to do the right thing at times or vote for a new guy on the block who will rearrange the deck chairs is the Capitol in ways that I probably won’t like as a housing and land use advocate.
Why even vote for governor in November? My vote won’t count either way! We all know Kitz will win because he’ll roll up huge votes in the People’s Republic of Portland along with a thinner majority in Washington County and in the college towns on the I-5 corridor.
Like Rip Van Winkle I’ll wake up the day after the election ready for four more years of Kitz. But pollster Tim Hibbitts put the upcoming election in perspective:
“If Kitzhaber is re-elected it will only be because voters don’t see an acceptable alternative. He will not be re-elected in an affirmative vote.” (Oregonian, July 27, 2014)
Then again, as Yogi said – “it’s never over ‘til it’s over.” Just ask a Mariner fan!