The Accomplishments of Gov. John Kitzhaber

Right From the Start

Right From the Start

In 1985, Vera Katz (D-Portland) was the Oregon Speaker of the House and John Kitzhaber (D-Roseburg) was the President of the Oregon Senate. Some clever political wag dubbed them “Kitz and Katz.” (It represented the same level of banal intelligence that produced Hollywood references to “Benniffer”, “Bradjolena” and “Jayonce.”) Be that as it may, each had a significant goal in mind while in the legislature and each rode that goal to higher office.

Ms. Katz was the guiding light for adoption and implementation of Oregon’s notorious
standardized educational testing know as the Certificate of Initial Mastery (CIM) and the Certificate of Advanced Mastery (CAM). After nearly fourteen years it was abandoned. However, during that fourteen years CIM/CAM became the playground of the education elites and the teachers unions. As with most new programs implemented by Oregon’s liberal establishment, available and proven national testing programs were ignored in deference to the “Oregon way” which began without a clue and ended without a conclusion. It was an excuse to spend more, work less and devote copious amounts of time to “training and professional development.” It fostered the next boondoggle, the Quality School Model, for financing schools at a level that would bankrupt the state.

Never mind that the teachers hated it, the students didn’t understand it and the parents were left wondering just why the education system continued to founder and decline. Never mind that despite assurances that there would be no extra cost attendant to CIM/CAM, (and no line item for it ever appeared in a legislative budget), Sen. Gary George, using data from the Legislative Fiscal Office, estimated CIM/CAM consumed about ten percent of the planning, administrative and classroom teachers time or nearly $500 Million per biennium. Never mind that after a staggering delay in implementation, it was so out of touch with school curriculum that less than one third of the students taking the exam could pass it. Never mind that it was so pointless that neither universities nor employers gave it any credence. And never mind that the CIM (certificate of initial mastery) portion of the program was such a mess that they didn’t even try to implement the CAM (certificate of advanced mastery) portion.

But Ms. Katz became Mayor of Portland on the back of the subsequently disgraced CIM/CAM fiasco.

Similarly Mr. Kitzhaber, an emergency room physician, aspired to create a healthcare system overseen by state government to benefit Oregon’s low income and uninsured – a precursor to similar aspirations by President Barack Obama. The Oregon Health Plan was Mr. Kitzhaber’s vehicle for delivery. As common with most liberal programs, the cost was significantly underestimated, the effects overestimated, and the bureaucratic growth unchecked. The cost of the Oregon Health Plan nearly doubled in its first six years causing a financial crises and cutbacks in other social programs. As the program progressed tens of thousands of participants lost prescription coverage and those facing terminal illness were denied treatment. So unwieldy and ineffective was the program that even Mr. Kitzhaber declared it a failure.

But Mr. Kitzhaber rode the Oregon Health Plan to the governor’s chair, ousting a sitting Democrat governor, Barbara Roberts, and serving two consecutive terms. Beyond the Oregon Health Plan, Mr. Kitzhaber’s accomplishments during those two terms were – well nothing. So regularly did he wield his veto pen to force increased state spending that he became known as “Dr. No.” It was during these first two terms that Mr. Kitzhaber perfected the art of summoning “blue ribbon commissions” to address every issue and controversy that arose and thereafter routinely ignored their conclusions and advice. At the conclusion of his two terms, Mr. Kitzhaber declared Oregon “ungovernable” which we have learned actually means not that the state cannot be governed but that Mr. Kitzhaber cannot govern.

After an eight year hiatus during which his successor, Gov. Ted Kulongoski (D), essentially turned operation of state government over to the public employees unions and presided over the loss of over 150,000 private sector jobs during the Bush/Obama recession, Mr. Kitzhaber was elected governor for his third term. Turning his attention again to healthcare, Mr. Kitzhaber presided over implementation of CoverOregon – the state’s response to Obamacare. After nearly $350 Million dollars and a couple of jingles, CoverOregon failed to enroll one single person online. Like Ms. Katz, Mr. Kitzhaber eschewed existing and previously demonstrated programs in favor of the “Oregon Way” and declared that CoverOregon would be a model for the nation. It never became a model but it did become standard fare for the light-night comedians.

But beyond the disaster of CoverOregon, Mr. Kitzhaber’s accomplishments during his third term were – well nothing. The private sector jobs lost during the Bush/Obama recession have not yet been recovered. The job growth rate is so anemic it is unlikely that Oregon – at least under Mr. Kitzhaber – will ever recover the peak employment ratio that it reached prior to the recession. Oregon’s average household income trails the national average. Annual income has declined and average family net worth has declined. The only bright spot in Oregon’s employment picture is the continuing increase in state public employees. Public school academic achievement, for which Mr. Kitzhaber is now ultimately responsible, continues to decline. And Mr. Kitzhaber’ singular response to the employment crises and other problems is, once again, appointing blue ribbon commissions whose finding and recommendations he ignores.

Under Mr. Kitzhaber, the governor’s office has become a pretty plush affair. You have a nice office with a desk upon which you can rest your freshly polished cowboy boots. You have a state provided car and driver, bodyguards, access to a state airplane, state provided national and international travel, a sycophantic Portland business leadership, and Mahonia Hall. And most of all you have a compliant press corps that has never and will never hold you accountable for anything. It’s a pretty good paycheck and you have lots of time to engage in fly-fishing.

Too bad that Oregon is ignored in the process.