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January 15th, 2003 The Nose | The Nose
 

Beating the Bush in Salem

     
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photo of ted kulongoski by martin thiel
Say what you will about George Bush, you've got to give him this: He hasn't been whining about how "ungovernable" we are.

You may think our commander in chief is a menace, but you can't say he's been idle. He's preparing to pound Iraq into a sandlot, drill for Alaskan oil, eliminate dividend taxes and pave over our wetlands. He booted Trent Lott to the Senate's cheap seats, created a $37 billion bureaucracy to secure our homeland and bailed out the steel industry. In short, George Bush has been a poster boy for activist government.

Compare this to our departing governor, who, after eight years of ineffective rule, last week bitched to the Eugene Rotary Club that Oregon has become ungovernable. John Kitzhaber said the state is too chaotic to run, "fragmented by ideology and partisanship, unable to take effective action on any front and without any sense of community or common purpose."

Before you dash to your keyboard to remind the Nose that the Democratic governor was burdened with a Republican Legislature, a guy named Bill Sizemore and a diving economy, save your fingers. The Nose has heard all this before, and he doesn't buy it.

It's true that Kitzhaber can't be blamed for the state's empty piggy bank. But 40-some other states in the country are also out of cash (California, for example, is short a mere $35 billion), and many of their governors found ways to leave a legacy.

Kitzhaber never had the common sense to understand how--even with financial challenges--leaders figure out a way to put down the veto pen long enough to play offense and to use government as a tool for reform.

It is for this reason that the Nose is as giddy as a schoolgirl about the governorship of Ted Kulongoski.

Despite a lackluster campaign, Teddy boy has recently been evidencing the spark that those who have followed him for 20 years know he has burning within.

He spent last week barnstorming the state, meeting with Republicans, Democrats and independents, talking about reforming PERS, overhauling the ailing Oregon Health Plan and doubling this state's vehicle-registration fees--ideas that have been kicking around for the past eight years.

In his inaugural address Monday, Kulongoski again ruled out a push for new taxes this session, insisting that Oregon must live within its means. But,
he made it clear, that doesn't mean he'll be sitting around waiting for Intel's stock to rebound. Speaking before lawmakers and hundreds of well-wishers, Kulongoski promised to personally meet with corporate bigwigs thinking of relocating to Oregon. He announced he was cutting his own paycheck by 5 percent. And he got a big ovation when he declared that "the days of business as usual in state government are over."

Kulongoski and Kitzhaber may both be Democrats, but the similarities stop there. The old governor was as cold as dry ice; the new governor is as warm as a hot toddy. The old governor didn't trust anyone who didn't have a mustache and jeans; the new governor threw an inaugural ball that looked like a Benetton ad. The old governor always thought he was the smartest guy in the room; the new governor understands that the smartest guy in the room never lets anyone else in the room know that.

Fact is, Ted Kulongoski may have more in common with George Bush than he does with John Kitzhaber. Which might not be so bad.

 
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