The third floor of the Governor Hotel ballroom creaked under the weight of the crowd.
Would he or wouldn't he? Only his speechwriter knew for sure.
Ted Kulongoski was giving the annual State of the State address in front of the City Club last Friday, and everyone wanted to know what he'd say about the biggest public-policy debate going on in the state (and, perhaps, the nation): gay marriage.
First, the assembled crowd had to listen to a speech that was less ambitious than the Nose's college roommate. It was an address without passion, new ideas or bold pronouncements. It was more like a comforting, parental embrace. The governor told us that our economy was slowly coming around, reminded us that kids were important and pledged that government would continue to look for efficiencies. He threw a few jabs at President Bush and Wal-Mart, but overall, it was oddly calm.
As political consultant Len Bergstein told the Eugene Register-Guard, Gov. Kulongoski avoided the promises of more and better services and instead offered a live-within-your-means message. "This governor has decided this is not a time for grand new visions," said Bergstein.
Live within your means. Few can dispute the prudence of this form of Kulongoski leadership, but it is a world away from the jackrabbit Eugene liberal of two decades ago, the Ted Kulongoski who ran for governor in 1982 with the passionate belief that there was no problem so large that it couldn't be solved by government intervention. Of course, in that election, he got stomped like a Dixie cup at a clog dance. (Could that be why the 1982 race has been strangely expunged from his official biography, as if it never happened? See http://governor.oregon.gov/bio.htm.)
Today, Ted Kulongoski has become less the hare and more the armadillo--thick skin, a studied patience and a tendency to move to the middle of the road.
Kulongoski's speech didn't mention Oregon's biggest news event of the year. That was left to Tom Potter, who stepped up to the microphone in the post-speech Q&A. Potter is a former Portland police chief who is now running for mayor of Portland. What are you doing to protect the civil rights of my lesbian daughter? Potter asked. Kulongoski paused, then proceeded to bitch-slap Portland's former top cop.
"I would ask all the politicians and all those who want their 15 minutes of fame on the issue to basically stand down," our governor said.
The governor seemed less angry at the prospect of gay marriage than he did at the idea of getting too far out in front of the average Oregonian. Which happens to be a perfect illustration of our governor's mantra: Go slow, seek the middle ground and build credibility.
All of which may be fine. It's just seems strangely inconsistent for a state that recently adopted the marketing slogan "We love dreamers."