When Ted Kulongoski announced his transition team last week, the Nose was sad to see his name missing from the multicultural, multiregional, multichromosomal roster. Sad, but not really surprised.
After all, the Nose doesn't know that much about politics (and he's never been able to pick up a 7-10 split). But he does know a bit about poker, and had the governor-in-waiting asked, he'd have given the 'ski-ster a priceless piece of advice about the best way to deal with the cards he's been dealt and kick-start his governorship:
CANCEL THE JAN. 28 ELECTION TO RAISE INCOME TAXES.
Measure 28, for those of you who may have forgotten, is a temporary income tax that will be on a ballot headed to your mailbox next month.
It's the product of a mud-wrestling extravaganza between angry man John Kitzhaber and unruly Oregon lawmakers, who simply couldn't agree on how to deal with the recession and the drop in tax dollars. So last September, the two parties finally agreed to place a $666 million measure before voters to patch a few holes in the state budget for a few years.
It was a baling-wire-and-duct-tape version of leadership. But Kulongoski, during his campaign for governor, said he would hold his nose and vote yes. A gutsy move, it nearly cost him the election, as Republican Kevin "No New Taxes" Mannix took shots at him throughout the campaign. It was easier than shooting lame ducks in a pork barrel.
Nonetheless, Kulongoski was able to squeak into office and last week announced that he won't be campaigning for Measure 28. Instead, he'll be coming up with a strategy for what to do should the measure fail--and it won't include any borrowing, sin taxes or clever accounting. Rather, he'll propose $313 million in cuts.
The Nose suspects Kulongoski is bluffing. The soon-to-be guv knows the Legislature won't allow him to slash the budget that much, but he also knows the proverbial "worst-case scenario" might prod some "yes" votes on Measure 28.
The problem is, it won't work. Few people like the idea of raising their taxes in the best of times. Polls show that in this recession, Measure 28 has less chance of winning than Michael Jackson has of being named father of the year.
So here is what is likely to happen. Kulongoski takes the oath of office Jan 5. The Legislature convenes on Jan 6. Nothing happens until Jan. 28, when the results of the election come in.
The measure loses, and Kulongoski is saddled with the perception that within his first 30 days in office, he has his first defeat--whether he deserves blame for the failed measure or not. Then, he has to retreat from his "all-cuts" solution and agree to some borrowing.
Everything Kulongoski will have done will have been for the right reasons, but he'll still look like a loser, and perception means a good deal in politics, just like it does in the singles scene. That's why the Nose is thinking about liposuction--and why he strongly encourages Teddy to call up legislative leaders and get them to agree to cancel the election.
After all, Kenny Rogers didn't sell a gajillion records singing about betting the farm on a no-win hand. He knew there's no shame in knowing when to fold 'em. But then again, he's not on Kulongoski's transition team, either.