Ron Saxton: What might have been

This past week I received an announcement that Ron Saxton has joined JELD-WEN as senior vice-president for external affairs. That position will include responsibility for formulation and advocacy of public policy positions on behalf of JELD-WEN.

Most of you know that JELD-WEN is the world’s largest manufacturer of doors and windows. The Klamath Falls based business is among the biggest, if not the biggest private employer in the state. It is also the largest privately held business in Oregon and has been a tireless contributor to Oregon’s economy, charities and public policy debate. You might remember that JELD-WEN was the driving force behind Oregon’s premier welfare reform initiatives, the Oregon JOBS and Oregon JOBS Plus programs. It is also one of the major sponsors of the Oregon Chalkboard Project which is Oregon’s first critical look at educational reform in decades.

JELD-WEN operates under a very simple public policy philosophy: the best contribution to the improvement of a person’s life is a good job. To that end, the new appointment of Ron Saxton will be a good fit. While I am pleased for both Ron and JELD-WEN, I received the news with a bit of melancholy of what might have been.

You will remember that Saxton was the Republican nominee for governor in this past election and in an aggressive campaign he committed to undertake fundamental changes in the governance of Oregon. But events intervened and Saxton’s bid was defeated in a state and national election that could only be termed a disaster for Republicans. A disaster for Republicans who seemed to have lost their way and become the princes of perks, pork and ethical problems. Perhaps if they had listened to the no nonsense messages from Ron Saxton, perhaps if the Republicans had shown fiscal restraint, operating efficiency and single mindedness in economic improvement, things may have been different.

So how different would they be? Well let’s just take a couple of examples.

First, Saxton promised he would cut government by ten percent. That probably wasn’t going to happen because the Democrats control the House and the Senate. But I know Saxton and I know that he was prepared to wield a veto pen with the same vigor as former Governor John Kitzhaber. One of the little know facts of how to tame a legislature is found in the fact that the legislature is required to balance the budget each biennium. A simple veto by the governor of an inflated budget bill will send the legislature back until it gets it right — in this case until it agrees with the fiscal restraints preached by Saxton. In all probability, a compromise would have been reached in which growth in government spending was held to zero. (That is as opposed to the ten percent reduction Saxton wanted and the twenty percent growth that Kulongoski and the current legislature are about to adopt.)

Think about that. Oregon government is awash in cash. It has over $2 Billion more in revenues for this biennium than it had for the last biennium. Kulongoski and his Democrat colleagues have already increased taxes on business by an additional $300 Million and there is more yet to come. That is $2.3 Billion dollars lost to Oregon’s economy.

Were that money invested in Oregon’s economy, in the growth of Oregon in businesses, in the creation of jobs in Oregon, then Oregon would be experiencing the same type of economic and job growth as the rest of the United States — and in particular the rest of the Western States. Instead, Oregon’s job growth was an anemic 1.7% – about half of what the other Western States achieved and far below the national average. Oregon was 44th out of 51 (Washington, D.C. is included in the reporting.) And instead of loosing high paying construction, manufacturing and high tech jobs to government employment and service industry minimum wage jobs, Oregon could have seen an economic rebound similar to the rest of the country.

But instead, Oregon’s economy continues to limp along — 42nd out of 51 — only eighty percent of the average of the other Western states. And government has returned to its prolific spending habits with a growth in spending at nearly twice the rate as the growth in Oregonians’ total personal income.

All of the mistakes of the past are being repeated with such gusto that Oregon again stands in extreme danger in the face of the next recession. Whether that recession is mild or deep for the rest of the country, it will be catastrophic for Oregon.

It didn’t have to happen. And when it does, we will all pine for what could have been.