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Kulongoski deserves a second term as governor

Citizens of this state deserve a better Oregon, and the candidate for governor who is best equipped to deliver on that promise is Ted Kulongoski.

The incumbent governor understands that the road toward a better state begins with a stable and high-performing education system, more affordable and accessible health care, safe communities, and an improved economy that also sustains Oregon's quality of life and the environment.

Oregonians are fortunate that the governor's race features two fine major-party candidates. Kulongoski is challenged by Republican Ron Saxton, a Portland attorney and former chairman of the Portland School Board. Both candidates are quality citizens who care deeply about Oregon, its people and the future.

Over the past year, Saxton has sought to define the election as a satisfaction test: Are Oregonians satisfied with their state and with state government? The answer is "no." But frankly, no one should ever be content - about themselves, about Oregon or how this state is governed.

The more essential question is: How shall Oregon improve and who can best lead that progress?

We believe Kulongoski is that leader. As governor, he has directly addressed issues most important to Oregonians. He knows more needs to be done, and has articulated a vision for Oregon in much greater detail than Saxton has provided.

Kulongoski offers plans to invest in improved teaching of young Oregonians. He has prompted local community colleges and the state's universities to work together better. He has concrete notions of how Portland State University, the University of Oregon and Oregon State University can excel.

The governor offers a plan to assist more than 100,000 young Oregonians who are without health care, even as their parents are employed. He successfully has promoted Oregon as a good place for businesses to locate and expand, and he has led the state's on-going effort to invest in emerging, innovative businesses.

And as governor, he stood up to public unions to push through reforms of the state Public Employees Retirement System.

Saxton favors the same things: better schools, better public safety and an improved economy. He was the first public leader to warn of the growing cost of PERS. But he dramatically differs from Kulongoski, who often floats ideas for new taxes to support programs - a cigarette tax hike to pay for expanded health care, or a rental-car fee to fund more state troopers.

Saxton claims new taxes are not the solution. He says government efficiency and an improved economy should first pay the way. Yet, Saxton does not specify his savings or how much they will generate.

Throughout his campaign, Saxton has been content to remain on point, claiming that Kulongoski has been a disappointing governor.

Our endorsement of Kulongoski, however, isn't based on a distrust or fear of Saxton. He is the best GOP candidate to run for governor since Dave Frohnmayer. But he hasn't sufficiently demonstrated that he can do the job of governor.

And unfortunately, Saxton has fallen shy on two key tests of leadership. First, he has been unwilling to stand with other top state leaders in unequivocal opposition to Ballot Measures 41 and 48, which together could do more to determine Oregon's future than any one person running for office.

Second, he's fanned the flames of prejudice with his rantings about illegal aliens, a stump speech shaped more by his pollsters than his convictions.

We realize that Oregonians have had their share of disappointments over the past four years. But voters should understand that leadership has been difficult due to the severe recession, which in 2002 severed Oregon's general fund by almost $3 billion. Kulongoski's first term was not perfect. His involvement and communication with a divided Legislature was spotty. He displayed a reluctance to publicly rally Oregonians on issues. But he did govern in desperately difficult recessionary times. And Oregon moved forward. Times are better now.

No, we are not satisfied. We expect more from Kulongoski should he be re-elected. But this election is about the future, not the past. Kulongoski has demonstrated the ability to lead in tough times, and in this campaign he has specified both a direction for Oregon and the means to move forward.

Voters should re-elect Kulongoski, who has a plan to do the job.