So far one serious Republican has announced his bid for governor, and all bets are on Kitzhaber running for term #4 next year
Last month, Republican Representative Dennis Richardson from Central Point (pictured on the right above) announced that he is running for Governor in next year’s gubernatorial election. At this point he is the only serious contender who has announced, though other contenders will most likely surface prior to the March, 2014 filing deadline. Most people expect that Democrat Governor John Kitzhaber (pictured left, above) will announce his bid for re-election this fall.
What will next year’s campaign for the Governor’s mansion be all about? Here’s our take on what will matter if the Republican and Democratic primaries are won by Rep. Richardson and Governor Kitzhaber, respectively:
A Referendum on Spending, Unemployment & Style of Leadership
We believe there are three major issues that will surface in the 2014 Gubernatorial Election.
Spending & PERS:
History will show that Governor Kitzhaber has put some significant effort into reforming PERS during the last session. But so far he has been largely unsuccessful, and his last attempt was viewed by Republicans as a political bait & switch that that was labeled a “compromise” but was not actually reached with bipartisan agreement (that proposal died a quick, painful death). What reforms Kitzhaber was able to have enacted have been largely viewed as not significant enough–except by public employee unions who view them as going too far.
Rep. Richardson has largely been unable to reverse the trend of greater spending and PERS debt. However, he has not had a position of power like Gov. Kitzhaber does. During the 2011 Legislative session, when Republicans in the House had split control with Democrats, Richardson was the go-to Republican legislator during budget negotiations. He is widely known to be extremely knowledgeable about Oregon’s budget and would likely be able to tackle the dollars & cents details of running a complex government if he were Governor.
Summary: If Kitzhaber is able to significantly reform PERS by the time we are deep into the campaign he could prevent Richardson from attacking him on this issue.
Unemployment & Prosperity:
Oregon’s unemployment rate is still a little bit higher than the national rate, but not by far. However, rural areas such as Douglas County are still being hit hard. We believe next year’s election will have a lot to do with whether people think Governor Kitzhaber has done a good enough job trying to turn around Oregon’s economic climate and whether his strategies are working. Here are a few facts from the Oregon Prosperity Project to consider:
In 2012, Oregon’s per capita income totaled $38,786. That was 90.8% of the national average ($42,693), and put Oregon in 34th place among all states. If Oregon’s income level was at the national average, the average Oregonian would have $3,900 more dollars per year in their pocket before taxes. There would be $15 billion more of income flowing through the state that people could spend, save, and invest.
Kitzhaber left himself open for some severe criticism when he flew to the Himalayas this Spring to study a new way of measuring economic progress: “gross national happiness”. The move was resoundly panned by some as irresponsible and a waste of time during legislative session when he could have been pushing for his legislative priorities, such as PERS reform.
Summary: Neither have obvious job creating accomplishments to point to but Kitzhaber has more of a record to defend.
Style of Leadership:
Lastly, next year we expect to see each campaign take apart the other’s style of leadership. Governor Kitzhaber, formerly known as “Dr. No”, had a reputation of partisanship when he was Governor back in 1995-2003. When he took office in 2011 he seemed to erase that image as he worked with a bipartisan House of Representatives. But since Democrats effectively took complete control of the government after the last election, the partisanship has snuck back in, but with surprisingly ineffective results.
Despite more political power than before, the Governor was unable to accomplish some of his major goals this year, including the Columbia River Crossing, major PERS reform, and speeding up Oregon’s lackluster economic recovery. He also suffered a major blow to his leadership image as his high profile appointment to the top education position he created (the Chief Education Office) left town about a year after receiving his $280,000/year job. The Governor has also historically spent time and effort as Governor on non-economic issues, such as pushing for assisted suicide in the 90’s and commuting all future death sentences while he is governor during his current term.
Representative Richardson is known for being a very conservative legislator. He also has been very hands-on with the budget process and thus is no stranger to policy debates. However, he lacks the name and image of Kitzhaber, who has won multiple statewide elections and has a very visible image with a distinctly Oregonian feel.
Summary: While Kitzhaber is popular amongst voters and does not seem to have lost his likability, his last year of governing has not been his best. Representative Richardson’s challenge in this area is to introduce himself to voters and show how his style of leadership will serve them better than Kitzhaber’s.
Survey: How would you rate the Governor on these issues?