Oregonian endorses Dudley, Kitzhaber

Below is the weekend endorsement of the state’s largests newspaper for the governor race:

Send Kitzhaber and Dudley on to a fall race for governor
The Oregonian Editorial Board, April 24, 2010

The Oregonian Editorial Board’s endorsements for the 2010 election.
The experienced two-term governor is the best choice for Democrats, while the charismatic former NBA player is the most promising GOP candidate. Oregon’s party primaries are about nominating the candidates most likely to run strong in November. For Democrats seeking to keep their 24-year-long grip on the governorship, that has always been John Kitzhaber. And for Republicans, that is now Chris Dudley. There is a third impressive candidate on the May 18 ballot, Republican Allen Alley, an entrepreneur and business executive. Alley has much to offer a state battling 10 percent unemployment, a deep deficit and a growing reputation as a place unfriendly to business. However, what Oregon most needs in the fall general election is the true choice, the stark contrast, between Kitzhaber’s broad experience and perspective from decades of public service and Dudley’s appealing call for change and fresh eyes from a life spent entirely outside politics.
Kitzhaber, 63, is challenged in the Democratic primary by an old friend and erstwhile political ally, Bill Bradbury, a former secretary of state and senator with a public record nearly as long as Kitzhaber’s. But while Kitzhaber has re-entered Oregon’s political arena with a campaign of hard-edged pragmatism, Bradbury has run on a starry-eyed promise of delivering $2 billion more for schools.

Bradbury’s head-in-the-clouds campaign won the endorsement of the state teachers union but cost him any chance of making a credible case that he’s prepared to balance a state budget projected to be $2.5 billion in the red when the next governor takes office.

Kitzhaber, meanwhile, is running a campaign grounded in the hard experience of his eight years as governor, ending in 2003. Kitzhaber is forthright about the lessons he learned from his bitter fights with the Republican-controlled Legislature and his frustrated exit seven years ago, when he described the state as ungovernable.

He speaks now of reclaiming Oregon’s political center, which he persuasively argues is the only way this state can pull together the support to confront its economic problems and its partisan, shortsighted politics, which have damaged its university system and left the state wholly unprepared for recession.

It’s true that over the years the former emergency room physician has been better at diagnosing Oregon’s problems than curing them. But Kitzhaber’s years away from government seem to have given him a clearer, better perspective of what Oregon needs in its governor. He vows, for example, to be a more hands-on manager of state agencies. Oregon has not had that kind of governor in a long time.

It has never had a serious candidate for governor like Chris Dudley. His résumé is short: sixteen years in the National Basketball Association, philanthropist, diabetes fundraiser and financial planner. Dudley has no political experience — he’s even been only a sometimes voter over the years.

the 6-foot-11 Dudley is long on the personal qualities that have quickly won over many established Republican groups and party financial supporters. His size and his open, engaging personality give him a star presence that Oregonians have seldom seen on the campaign trail.

Yes, Dudley has run a cautious campaign so far, offering more generalities than specifics on issues such as education, the economy and health care. For now, he lacks the depth and command of the details that other candidates, especially Alley, Republican John Lim and Kitzhaber, bring to gubernatorial debates.

Yet when you meet Dudley, you understand why Oregon’s GOP establishment has so quickly embraced him, showering him with more than $1 million in campaign funds and most of the party’s major endorsements. The Yale graduate is a quick learner, he’s humble and likable and perhaps most of all, he’s more or less Kitzhaber’s polar and political opposite.

Of all the candidates, Dudley speaks most clearly to the frustrations of Oregonians fed up, as he puts it, with “being 43rd in everything,” from school reform to higher education funding to job growth, and looking for something new, someone different, in a governor.

Yes, it is a leap of faith to nominate for governor a candidate with no political experience. But if there was ever a time to break from the past and from political convention, it is now. Republicans should nominate Dudley to challenge Kitzhaber and give voters a true choice for governor in the November general election.