Can Chris Dudley Be A New Beginning For Oregon?

It is pretty much a given that Chris Dudley will win the gubernatorial election. Most of the polls show Dudley with an increasing lead amongst likely voters. More importantly momentum appears to be with Dudley – more yard signs, more money, more donors, and more volunteers (I mean the real volunteers, not the ones who are obligated by membership in the public employee unions to “volunteer”).

It’s not so much that Dudley has energized the center-right coalition of voters that define Oregon (that is Oregon outside of Multnomah County); but rather that Oregon’s large independent base simply cannot stomach the prospect of another dose of Dr. No – John Kitzhaber. Years of spending like drunken sailors, years of ignoring the growing fiscal problems of Oregon, and years of rewarding the public employee unions while hundreds of thousand of Oregonians have lost their jobs have let to disenchantment with Oregon’s Democrat ruling class.

Given the likelihood of Dudley’s election there are several things he should be thinking and talking about in the final days of his campaign. Because there have been twenty-four years of one-party (Democrat) rule in Oregon, it is incumbent upon Dudley, as an agent of change, to set expectations. Changing twenty-four years of fiscal irresponsibility and warped policy priorities will not occur without a struggle – and at times a significant struggle.

So here are four important things for Dudley to consider as he prepares to serve as Oregon’s next governor:

1. Dudley should assume that he will be dealing with a Democrat majority in one or both houses of the legislature. Republicans will make sufficient gains to deny Democrats their super-majority for passing tax increases and, more importantly, limiting their ability to override gubernatorial vetoes. Just as John Kitzhaber used his veto to force increased spending through an impatient Republican dominated legislature; Dudley can use the veto to force fiscal reform on a Democrat legislature.

To do so requires patience. The legislature’s primary constitutional responsibility is to adopt a balanced budget. Dudley can, and should, reject successive budgets proposed by the Democrats until he is satisfied that it represents fiscal prudence.

2. Dudley should adopt a proposal from Sen. Jason Aktinson’s campaign during the 2006 gubernatorial campaign. Atkinson declared that, as governor, he would give the legislature until the 80th legislative day to adopt a comprehensive K-12 education budget and that if the legislature failed to do so, he would veto every bill – not just budget bills – until they did so. What Sen. Atkinson realized is that the legislature – Democrat and Republican alike – used school funding to balance the budget at the end of the session. The Republicans did it because it was a huge sum of money they could tweak at the end to balance the budget; and the Democrats did it because they could spend like fools on every other proposal and then cry crocodile tears about how the Republicans were unwilling to raise taxes to adequately fund the schools. (It also has the ancillary advantage of setting the budget before local school districts are required by law to fix their annual budget.)

Forcing the legislature to deal with school funding first eliminates the ability of either party to manipulate the budget on the backs of Oregon’s school children.

3. Dudley should understand that while his opposition is nominally the Democrat Party, in actuality, the opposition is Oregon’s public employees unions. The Democrat Party has become so reliant on the $80 Million biennial war chest of the public employees unions to finance their campaigns that it has, quite simply, become a subset of the public employees unions.

In Tuesday’s Oregonian, columnist Steve Duin, writing about the paradox of the Kitzhaber campaign, inadvertently, summarized the reality of continued Democrat domination:

“One final thought. Kitzhaber would have a far easier time dealing with a Legislature that is controlled by D’s, beholden to public employees and disinclined to allow Dudley to accomplish anything.”

And that is correct because the public employee unions are in full control of Oregon state government and continued Democrat dominance will ensure that Oregon state government serves their interest before the interests of Oregonians.

4. After the election and before actually taking office, Dudley should a) hire a damn good labor lawyer – not the ones who have represented public entities like the cities and towns, but rather one experienced in dealing with the harshness of labor disputes in the private sector; and b) hold a meeting with the state’s major employment agencies to develop a plan for hiring replacement workers.

Most of the fiscal reforms proposed by Dudley (and absolutely necessary if Oregon is going to have any chance of stopping the slide into the fiscal abyss) will require changes to the collective bargaining agreements. Requiring public employees to pay their own six percent contribution to PERS, absorb some portion of their healthcare insurance, and adjusting salaries to reflect private sector equivalencies must be dealt with during collective bargaining.

The public employees unions will not accept any one of these let alone all three. They will strike – not because the public employees want to strike, but rather because the union leaders, who are immune from the effects of a strike, will demand it to demonstrate “who has the power.” It is at this point that the Democrats, beholden to the unions as their financial source, generally fold.

It is at this point, that a governor with courage must remain steadfast. There are 160,000 Oregonians who have lost their jobs under the Kulongoski administration. There are at least another 40,000 Oregonians who have entered the workforce during that same period with no prospects for finding a job. Add to that Oregon’s chronically high level of unemployed (5-6%) and you have an available labor pool far in excess of any targeted union strike. These employment agencies can, with sufficient advanced notice and preparation, readily supply a sufficient number of qualified workers to maintain the essential elements of service for any agency of state government.

Over the long run, these same employment agencies can supply permanent replacement of union workers if required – remember the air traffic controllers. And finally, a strike would give a governor the opportunity to determine whether some of the functions should be outsourced to domestic private industry. (It also has the added benefit of limiting increased future liability for PERS because new hires come under the least abusive classification of the PERS system.)

In short, future-governor Chris Dudley, governing Oregon after twenty-four years of entrenched Democrat rule will be a serious challenge. A timid response will ensure failure and a single term, while boldness and tenacity will be rewarded by progress and the opportunity for a second term. You can be like Gov. Chris Christy (NJ), or Gov. Charlie Crist (FL) – your choice. Oregon will be waiting.