Moore Information, one of Oregon’s premier opinion research organizations, recently completed a poll indicating that Oregonians remain mired in pessimism about the direction of the state. Over half of the people (54 percent) believe that the state is headed in the wrong direction, while less than one-third (32 percent) think that the state is headed in the right direction. And while there are partisan differences in the results, still more Democrats think the state is headed in the wrong direction than in the right direction, and over half
of the independents think we are headed in the wrong direction.
This trend began with the onset of the recession, but even in the beginning of that, Oregonians remained optimistic. As late as October 2001, well into the recession, more people were confident of the future than not. But by January of 2002, the mood had changed. Forty-nine percent of Oregonians thought we were headed in the wrong direction while only 36 percent thought we were okay. By that time, Oregon had the highest unemployment and the lowest job growth in the nation, newspapers were full of the government budget crises, and while a gubernatorial election was pending, neither Democrat Ted Kulongoski nor Republican Kevin Mannix produced an intelligible plan to turn the state around. Kulongoski won that race because, absent a good reason to vote for a Republican, Oregon, with the dominance of Portland, votes Democrat. Governor by default.
While Gov. Kulongoski entered office with a favorable job rating (55 percent to 18 percent), his election did nothing to stem the recession, or the pessimism. The lack of a plan during the campaign translated into a lack of a plan for implementation. The lack of leadership quickly translated into a drop in confidence in the governor. (By November his numbers would fall to 42 percent positive and 28 percent negative.) Oregon continued to have the highest unemployment in the nation. With the loss of jobs and businesses, the tax revenue shortfall to the state continued to increase. Neither the governor nor the legislature was willing to make the hard choices to bring spending within available revenues. The only solution offered by all of the Democrats and a handful of Republicans was to increase taxes. The voters twice turned back such attempts by increasing margins and the dissatisfaction rate jumped in May of 2003 to 78 percent negative and only 12 percent positive. Increasing taxes is not a plan, nor a demonstration of leadership-it is simply the easy way out.
As the recession began to ebb on a national level, the pessimism felt by Oregonians began to ebb. The pessimism index dropped to 65 percent in November 2003, and to 52 percent by January 2005. There was hope that a national recovery would lift Oregon from a recession that started earlier here and was felt more deeply than most everywhere else. It was time to lead. Any plan (other than raising taxes) that offered visible action and the perception of leadership would have turned the tide. But there was none. Gov. Kulongoski virtually disappeared during the legislative session. There were no initiatives, bold or timid; there was just nothing but the normal partisan wrangling. The most excitement generated was Democrat attempts to overturn two popular ballot initiatives-Measures 36 and 37-that passed by overwhelming majorities.
So much for leadership and so much for restoring optimism for Oregon’s citizens. The pessimism index has remained steady, within the statistical error rate, at about 52 percent. Gov. Kulongoski’s approval rating hovered around 50 percent, but his negatives grew to about 30 percent and have remained constant. And the sad fact of the matter is that again, absent a reason to vote Republican, Gov. Kulongoski will win re-election and pessimism will remain virtually unchanged for the next four years.
So, Kevin Mannix, Ron Saxton, and Jason Atkinson, here’s your chance. Give us a reason to elect a Republican. Give us your short list of achievable goals for the first six months of your administration. Forget about the lofty goals of world peace, an improved economy and a chicken in every pot. Tell us how you are going to achieve definable goals. And if you are searching for a place to start, here are some thoughts:
Â· How are you going to stop the legislature from balancing the budget each session on the backs of the schools? This is a test of your resolve.
Â· How are you going to fix the looming PERS fiscal crises for all levels of government-and I mean fix it, not cover it up by shifting the debt through issuance of bonds? This is a test of your willingness to confront the public employees union.
Â· How are you going to bring fiscal discipline to state government spending? This is a test of your management skills.
Â· How are you going to fix the land use system so that there can be orderly development without destroying property values? This is a test of your diplomatic skills..
You’ll notice that I didn’t ask how you will fix Oregon’s economy or stimulate growth. Fix the problems stated above and Oregon will grow naturally and vibrantly.
Reprinted with Permission of Author. Written 11/16/05