Party should hang on to guv


Democrats should ignore election-year rhetoric that borders on political whininess and vote in the May 16 primary to retain incumbent Gov. Ted Kulongoski as their standard-bearer in the November general election.

Kulongoski earns this right after a first-term performance that produced a mixture of significant successes, near misses and embarrassing wrong turns, but began at a time when Oregon's economy, unemployment rate and public financing were on the rocks. That the state's economy is on the upswing Ñ Oregon's growth rate for job creation is among the nation's top 10 Ñ is due in part to Kulongoski's efforts. From his first day on the job, he has pushed and pulled to increase investment and employment in the state.

As a result, numerous new employers have chosen to locate in Oregon communities as diverse as The Dalles, Lebanon, Hillsboro, Medford, Hood River and Springfield. In some cases, Kulongoski was the main public relations or closing sales agent on the deals.

Other successes occurred on his watch. For the first time in a decade, the state is focused on improving Oregon's roads and bridges; Oregon's community colleges and four-year universities are working together to offer improved work force training and advanced learning; and the state has taken a major step to deal with the spiraling cost of its public retirement system.

Challengers fail to make case

But let's be frank. Kulongoski's first term was not as good as he proclaims it to be. Nor was it as dismal as described by his challengers Ñ former state Treasurer Jim Hill and Lane County Commissioner Pete Sorenson.

Sorenson and Hill are a lot alike: nice guys who are frustrated with the governor.

Hill is a former state treasurer and legislator who admits he entered this year's race late, both in frustration over Kulongoski and because he had seen many other Democrats thinking about taking a crack at the primary. But Hill's leadership agenda and specific plans for the governor's office are thin.

Sorenson entered the governor's race in January 2005 but has failed to extend significant support beyond Eugene. His financial strategy for Oregon Ñ which calls for corporations to pay a greater share of taxes and for creation of a rainy day fund Ñ lacks definition.

Second term a chance to improve

Kulongoski should use this primary election as a time to listen, learn and improve. For a man who clearly enjoys being out and about, he should use town hall meetings to hear from everyday Oregonians and share his vision that creating and retaining jobs is what's best for the state.

Other initiatives that the governor must continue include cleaning up the Willamette River, engaging K-12 supporters and legislative leaders to implement a plan for stable school funding, partnering with private industry in the development of alternative fuels and rebuilding his torn relations with Oregon's public employee unions.

Democrats' best choice in the May 16 primary is to support Ted Kulongoski Ñ a governor who has done many good things and should work even more consistently and engage Oregonians more publicly than ever before.

On Friday, April 28, the Portland Tribune will publish its editorial endorsement of Republican candidates running for governor in the May primary election.