Governor's race leaves many voters with difficult choices and few options to make things better

Oregon voters will have a Catch-22 choice in this November’s general election: to vote for incumbent Gov. John Kitzhaber for his fourth term or to vote for a relatively unknown Oregon legislator, Dennis Richardson.

Richardson is a Republican conservative who has slammed Kitzhaber for botching up the rollout of Cover Oregon and the failure of the Columbia River Crossing — which turned out to be a bridge to nowhere.

In their first debate recently before the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association, Kitzhaber claimed to have addressed the state’s budget problems on a bipartisan basis by raising taxes and cutting public employee pensions.

Richardson, by contrast, argued that Kitzhaber wasted millions of dollars and time on the Cover Oregon and CRC debacles. He feels Oregon can’t afford four more years of Kitzhaber’s promises.

But the indictment against Kitzhaber goes deeper than Cover Oregon or the CRC. Kitzhaber hired Rudy Crew to manage his other big reform — the transformation of Oregon’s education system from K-12 to higher education.

Crew left Oregon with the reform plan in chaos. More importantly, the concept is misguided because it’s based on the false premise that reforming schools can end the achievement gap.

Oregon embraced education reform in 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 dropout rate.

So one has to ask, given the failures of Cover Oregon, the CRC and education reform, why does John Kitzhaber deserve re-election?

It’s the economy, stupid.

If you are a member of corporate Oregon, Kitzhaber has been your friend — just ask Nike CEO Phil Knight or Intel executives. Through Business Oregon, Kitzhaber has lavished millions of dollars of tax benefits to such big box firms through the Strategic Initiatives Program and through ConnectOregon.

For Portland-area residents, Kitzhaber’s policies have made it the economic center of Oregon’s high-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.

Richardson claims Kitzhaber is 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.”

On tax reform, Kitzhaber has promised reform, but then he kicked the can, saying the time was not right. Richardson argues that we have a spending problem, not a taxing problem.

On the hot issues of liquefied natural gas and oil trains, Kitzhaber poses as an environmentalist, while one assumes Richardson would favor growing the job base. But the playing field has been left to industry, county officials and citizen activists.

Where’s a Tom McCall or Vic Atiyeh when you need one?

At the end of the day, one is faced with a Faustian bargain: vote for an incumbent who is squishy, or vote for a new guy on the block who will rearrange the deck chairs on the capital blocks.

Why vote for governor? Be like Rip Van Winkle and find out the day after.

Russ Dondero of Forest Grove is a Pacific University professor, blogger and citizen activist.

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