Our Opinion: Buehler brings necessary tension
In an era when political campaigns are designed to polarize voters, it may seem odd, but our endorsement in the governor's race is based on a belief that Oregon needs more conflict.
Not the gridlock that comes from the now all-too-familiar partisanship, but rather the creative tension that comes from opposing sides having to listen, compromise and work toward solutions.
With one party in control of the two legislative chambers and the governor's office, the state's leaders haven't been challenged strongly enough to find a different (and difficult) path on matters such as health care costs, educational improvement, tax reform and the unfunded liability for the Public Employees Retirement System.
Democrats have held the governor's office for 31 years, and they have maintained control of both the House and the Senate for most of the past decade. During that time, they've attempted bold experiments — including a much-heralded health care reform that's been only moderately successful. And they've taken stabs at PERS reforms, only to be thwarted by the courts.
But overall, Oregon hasn't moved forward on what should have been more urgent priorities during the recent reign of the Democratic Party.
The state's classrooms are overcrowded and its educational outcomes are subpar, in part because of the money that must be diverted to cover rapidly escalating PERS costs. Oregon's tax system is still perched upon the wobbly two legs of overly high income and property taxes. Health care expenses could become overwhelming. And the state's population remains divided between the prosperous urban and suburban areas vs. the struggling rural communities that once depended on a natural resources economy to sustain them.
A lack of progress on these nagging issues probably explains why Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, isn't overwhelmingly popular, despite her state's blue leanings. Brown is an admirable person who deserves credit for a number of accomplishments.
Brown took office under tough circumstances, after former Gov. John Kitzhaber resigned amid mounting allegations that he misused his position to help his fiancee's business prospects. Brown made the transition from secretary of state, helping to restore trust in the governor's office.
Among other things, Brown has led efforts to reduce disparities in Oregon's criminal justice system, pushed the law to keep guns away from domestic violence offenders and averted a nasty ballot measure fight over the minimum wage by negotiating a compromise between business and labor.
But we believe Oregon voters should instead elect Republican Rep. Knute Buehler as the next governor. Buehler has the potential to break the one-party inertia in Salem and use the natural tension that would arise from divided government to move forward on difficult issues.
It's not just wishful thinking to believe that having a Republican governor to balance a Democratic-controlled Legislature can bring real progress. Oregon voters only need to look back to the 2011 legislative session — when the Oregon House was divided 30-30 between Democrats and Republicans. Legislators of both parties point to that session as one of the most productive. Nothing moved forward in the House unless it had support from both sides, which means true compromise had to occur.
Similarly, we believe a Republican governor can force the Legislature (which is almost certain to have strong Democratic majorities) to compromise when necessary and to act on topics like PERS even when it doesn't want to.
Despite our preference for divided government, we wouldn't recommend Buehler if he were a fiery far-right candidate. But he is not. Buehler, a Bend physician and current legislator, fits comfortably into the tradition of moderate Oregon Republicanism. He's cut from the same mold as former gubernatorial candidates Norma Paulus and Dave Frohnmayer. He supports a woman's right to choose and is moderate to liberal on most social issues.
Buehler displays an impressive grasp of policy, particularly when it comes to the all-important issue of health care. At times, he sounds more like former Gov. Kitzhaber, also a policy wonk, than he does a typical Republican.
The 2018 gubernatorial election in Oregon ought to be about fixing intractable public problems that have plagued the state for decades. Some people will want to view it, instead, as a referendum on Donald Trump or Brett Kavanaugh.
That's understandable, given the partisan passions of the moment. Yet, voters should consider that divided government is good at both the federal and the state level. If the Democrats take control of the U.S. House in this election, they will place a check on Trump. Likewise, if Oregon's voters put Buehler in office, they will change the dynamics in Salem and force a real discussion about the state's most important concerns.