Gubernatorial candidates John Kitzhaber and Chris Dudley differ in a lot of ways, from their party affiliations to their government experience — or lack thereof.
But their most salient difference is this: Dudley believes more strongly than Kitzhaber in the private sector's power to provide jobs and revenue and elevate Oregonians' quality of life. His policies follow from that belief. Kitzhaber believes more strongly than Dudley in the power of government to do much of the same, and many of his policies follow from that. Hence his short-term job-creation plan, which would pay people with borrowed money to insulate public schools.
Kitzhaber, an experienced lawmaker and two-term governor, is as qualified to hold the state's highest elective office (again) as anyone ever has been. But experience doesn't guarantee success, as Dudley's quick to point out. Kitzhaber was a policy whiz well before his first stint as governor, and his successor, Ted Kulongoski, had toured every other branch of state government before his first term. Yet here we are.
Inexperience doesn't guarantee success, either. But Kitzhaber's vast experience culminated in a veto-plagued impasse with lawmakers that earned him the nickname “Dr. No,” followed by a declaration that Oregon is “ungovernable.” Kitzhaber may have figured some things out during the past eight years, but his shortcoming as governor wasn't a failure to understand policies.
His weakness, rather, was his inability to lead effectively. He can point to the fact that he, a Democrat, had to work with an uncooperative Republican Legislature, which is true enough. But no governor is guaranteed a peaceful workplace filled with like-minded colleagues. In the coming years, Oregon will need a governor who won't fold up his arms and say “no” when things don't go his way. History suggests that guy isn't John Kitzhaber.
Moreover, we believe Chris Dudley is committed more deeply than Kitzhaber to the kinds of changes Oregon needs right now. These include educational policy, spending reform and tax and regulatory policies that encourage job creation.
Kitzhaber's plan for education focuses largely on the way the state budgets, creating a unified process for all schools, kindergarten through college, and emphasizing predictability from year to year. This is interesting and well worth considering. But Kitzhaber's enthusiasm for the kinds of reform supported by President Obama's Race to the Top competition seems lukewarm, at best. He does mention the need to use student progress in teacher evaluations. But he's quick to emphasize that “such data ... should not be tied to increased or decreased pay.”
Dudley is, without a doubt, the candidate of educational change, supporting merit pay for teachers, school choice for parents (including charter schools and virtual schools), statewide or regional collective bargaining and laws that encourage midcareer professionals to become teachers. He even proposes to give high-level high school students full scholarships to any Oregon public university, though we have no idea how he'd pay for such a thing.
As for private-sector job creation, Kitzhaber is open to some reduction in Oregon's famously high capital gains taxes. Nonetheless, his other proposals read like something produced by a guy who's spent his life in government. Short-term initiatives are heavy on incentives such as the Business Energy Tax Credit, designed to steer job creation toward green, renewable or otherwise “good” ends. He even uses his “economic prosperity” plan as an opportunity to call for stricter building codes designed to enhance energy efficiency. His long-term plan is more of the same, with added, if nebulous, emphasis on retaining and attracting businesses that sell their products outside of the state. All in all, Kitzhaber's economic plan reads like Kulongoski 2.0.
Dudley's plan is far more straightforward, and it emphasizes the fact that taxes matter, including Measures 66 and 67, which “have created investor uncertainty, reduced business owner confidence and ... further tarnished Oregon's reputation as a place to do business.”
To restore Oregon's business environment, Dudley would like to reduce capital gains taxes by nearly 75 percent, freeing up money for investment. He'd like to align the state and federal tax codes, which, among other things, would lower the cost and hassle of compliance. He also supports some targeted tax cuts for small businesses.
Dudley also promises to change the demeanor of government toward business, pursuing “policy and personnel changes to demonstrate” an eagerness “for both existing and new businesses to invest here and grow here.” Helping the private sector succeed is the core of Dudley's candidacy. For Kitzhaber, on the other hand, it seems to be an obligation indifferently pursued by someone whose real interest is the function of government itself.
Both candidates recognize the need to control compensation costs for public employees, and both mention some of the problems described by Gov. Kulongoski's Reset Cabinet, including the “6 percent pickup.” But here, too, Kitzhaber tries mightily to shift the focus away from the Democratic Party's traditional base, arguing that “the political narrative that wages and benefits for public employees are the chief cause of our budget shortfall is simply not true.” Regardless of what combination of factors caused Oregon's budget problems, however, the state must cut its expenses dramatically in the near future, and the unrealistic compensation of public employees is the obvious place to start.
John Kitzhaber is a public policy expert who, if elected, will be able to call upon years of government experience. But the same was true of Ted Kulongoski eight years ago. Kitzhaber maintains that, in addition to experience, he also brings new ideas — more, presumably, than Chris Dudley. With all due respect, however, this race isn't about new ideas. It's about a new commitment to try out — at long last — some old ideas, including tax policies and regulatory changes designed to encourage private job creation, educational reform of the sort encouraged by Obama, and government spending reform along the lines of Gov. Kulongoski's Reset Cabinet.
The candidate who's eager to make this new commitment is clearly Chris Dudley, not John Kitzhaber, who practically embodies the political culture that got us where we are today.