Governor of OregonDennis Richardson • Republican Primary
Oregon has not had a Republican governor since Vic Atiyeh left office in January 1987. That’s the second-longest streak of Democrats dominating a governor’s office, trailing only Washington state.
It’s not as if the Republicans seeking the Oregon governorship have stuck with the same formula. The past three GOP gubernatorial nominees have embodied three different approaches.
Chris Dudley in 2010 was a political neophyte but a celebrity, thanks to his NBA career that included a stint with the Portland Trail Blazers; Ron Saxton in 2006 was a well-connected moderate insider from the Democratic stronghold of Portland; and Kevin Mannix in 2002 was a fire-breathing conservative from Salem with a strong legislative record.
Three different approaches, one common result: failure.
This year, the nominee will emerge from a crowded field of seven candidates: Portland businessman Tim Carr, retired Medford concrete contractor Gordon Challstrom, Lyons Realtor Bruce Cuff, Douglas County timber merchant Mae Rafferty, West Linn property manager Darren Karr, and Rep. Dennis Richardson (R-Central Point).
During our endorsement interview, Carr, who noted he once was a star tennis player, made reforming the Public Employees Retirement System a top priority but couldn’t list a single step he’d take in doing so. Challstrom, enraged about government spending, says he would cut taxes. Rafferty had few specific ideas to offer. As for Karr, his campaign slogan, “Crazy for Oregon,” is about as apt as we’ve seen in many years.
Among the long-shots, Cuff is the only one who bears even the faintest resemblance to a serious candidate. He offered a proposal for a local sales tax (with the rates set by each county) to fund schools. His idea fell apart when he admitted he had no idea of its fiscal impact.
Richardson is the clear choice as the Republican nominee to take on Gov. John Kitzhaber.
He served as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam and afterward, went to law school and moved to Oregon. He and his wife raised nine children, he ran a successful law practice in Central Point and he entered politics relatively late, winning election to the House in 2002 at age 52.
In Salem, he’s earned a reputation for diligence and integrity. He served as co-chair of the budget-writing Joint Ways and Means Committee in 2013, an honor caucuses reserve for their most capable members.
Richardson is a smart, thoughtful lawmaker who will easily win this primary with his message of downsizing government and making what’s left more efficient.
His challenge, however, is appealing to voters in the suburbs, where Republicans must do well to counteract the Portland area’s heavy Democratic vote.
Richardson is charisma-free, pro-life and on record as having voted for the creation of Cover Oregon, the failed health-insurance exchange that is Kitzhaber’s greatest weakness. In our endorsement interview, Richardson was cautiously vague about his priorities if he somehow were elected governor.
He’ll have to do better in the general election. But Richardson can worry about that after the primary.
Who Richardson would be if not himself: Steve Jobs. “He wasn’t willing to accept things as they were. But I’d be nicer.”