By now, most Oregon voters know a lot about Kate Brown, 57, who has held office since entering the Legislature in 1991 and is running for statewide office for the fourth time in the past decade.
Brown, a former family lawyer, served as Senate majority leader and then secretary of state for six years before Gov. John Kitzhaber resigned in February 2015 in the midst of an influence-peddling scandal. By the terms of Oregon's constitution, Brown automatically succeeded Kitzhaber.
Since becoming governor, Brown has signed some meaningful legislation into law: a landmark minimum wage hike, the coal-to-clean energy bill, a $5.3 billion transportation funding package and, most recently, a gun control bill that takes weapons away from domestic abusers.
She also handled problems, most notably turmoil at the Oregon Health Authority and the Oregon Department of Human Services. Brown acted decisively to change the management of both agencies.
In many respects, Brown has been an effective public servant. Yet we, like many Oregonians, aren't overly enthusiastic about the prospect of her remaining governor until 2022.
Part of it is her reluctance or inability to tackle the state's structural problems: a broken tax system and a $25 billion unfunded public pension liability. In an overwhelmingly Democratic state, it doesn't take a lot of courage to give workers a pay raise or tell utilities they have to stop burning coal. It's much harder to tell public employees their benefits may need to shrink or to hammer out a compromise between business and labor on taxes.
Examples abound of Brown's timidity when it comes to difficult challenges. In 2016, she couldn't make up her mind on business tax Measure 97, until it was too late for her endorsement to mean anything. Last year, in an effort to look like she was serious about the state's unfunded liabilities, she pulled together a task force to look at selling state assets to reduce Oregon's crippling pension liability; even those on the task force told us this was little more than window dressing. The governor was similarly cautious this year in her protracted decision on whether to sign legislation that denied Oregon small businesses a $1 billion tax cut (she signed at the last minute, then tried to cushion the blow by proposing a special legislative session).
The rap on Brown is that this affable politician is too cautious, too unwilling to challenge the preconceived notions of her base, and simply not bold enough for the challenges that we face.
Brown had no meaningful opposition in 2016—an election held to determine who would complete Kitzhaber's term. Neither of her opponents in this year's primary—Ed Jones, an excavator from Redmond who hasn't yet figured out he's actually a Republican, and Candy Neville, a Eugene homebuilder whose primary focus is to block the proposed Jordan Cove LNG pipeline—will force Brown to break a sweat.
We're endorsing her. But we're also hoping she demonstrates a leadership during the general election campaign that has been missing for much of her tenure.
Brown's mentor, former Gov. Barbara Roberts, climbed the political ladder powered by a desire to help children with special needs; health care policy animated Kitzhaber. With Brown, it's harder to discern a burning motivation. Her platform is boilerplate, and the issue that Brown says keeps her up at night—fixing Oregon's woeful K-12 education system—is neither novel nor much changed in the three years she's served as governor.
The Legislature makes laws and sets the budget. Much of what a governor can do is share with Oregonians a vision of how the state could be different—and better. We're still waiting for that.
Most embarrassing thing Facebook knows about Brown: She has an official page maintained by staff but not one of her own. "I lurk on the first gentleman's page," Brown says.
Like the Portland Trail Blazers come playoff time, Oregon Republicans cannot seem to win a governor's race. They've been shut out for 36 years, since 1982, when Republican Vic Atiyeh defeated then-state Sen. Ted Kulongoski.
The GOP in this state remains deeply divided between Trump-supporting conservatives—represented in this race by former Navy Blue Angels commander Greg Wooldridge, Bend businessman Sam Carpenter and Salem-area realtor Bruce Cuff—and the moderate wing of the party, whose standard bearer is state Rep. Knute Buehler (R-Bend).
The choice in the primary is easy: Buehler, an orthopedic surgeon and two-term state representative, is thoughtful, knowledgeable and can attract the support needed to mount a credible challenge against Brown.
Buehler lost to Brown in the 2012 race for secretary of state. Rather than abandoning politics as many one-and-done newcomers do (see Chris Dudley, the former Blazer who nearly defeated Kitzhaber in the 2010 governor's race and soon thereafter moved to California), Buehler humbled himself and ran for a seat in the Oregon House of Representatives. He's won in a Bend district where Democrats hold a voter registration advantage of nearly 11 percentage points.
In Salem, he's built bipartisan credibility. In 2015, he passed a bill that provided women access to prescription birth control without having to visit a doctor. More recently, he broke ranks with Republicans on the 2016 coal-to-clean energy bill and on a 2018 gun control bill that passed.
Buehler is pro-choice, in favor of same-sex marriage and frequently critical of President Donald J. Trump. He's struggled to solidify Republicans, both because he lacks the warmth and common touch of a natural politician, and because his strategy is based on capturing the big middle of Oregon politics in which nonaffiliated voters outnumber Republicans.
Buehler's unwillingness to appeal to the GOP base on red-meat issues such as abortion, and his ambivalence toward Trump—in an endorsement interview, he gave the president a C grade—caused conservative donors to go shopping for
The best they found was Wooldridge, a relative newcomer to Oregon—he retired here 12 years ago—a genial, Reagan-esque character whose warmth masks a dearth of policy experience or civic engagement.
Carpenter, who runs a telephone answering business, previously ran for U.S. Senate and has built his campaign on his fealty to Trump. Cuff has twice previously run for governor, but nobody in his party seems to care. Also in the race: Jeff Smith, an aerospace engineer from Fairview who says his campaign strategy is to avoid talking about any issues that might be divisive. Wow.
Most embarrassing thing Facebook knows about Buehler: He spends a lot of time standup paddle boarding with his "very spoiled" dogs: Winston, a Labradoodle, and Lily, a mutt.
Oregon Labor Commissioner
The Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries occupies an important niche in state government. The agency oversees apprenticeship programs, administers the state's prevailing wage program, polices workplace and civil rights violations, and enforces the state's fair housing laws.
The incumbent labor commissioner, Brad Avakian, made big news when he went after a Christian cake baker for discriminating against a same-sex couple, and when he busted Stars, a strip joint, for employing and abusing underage dancers.
But most of the agency's work flies below the public's radar.
The two candidates to succeed Avakian in this nonpartisan race are experienced politicians. Former House Majority Leader Val Hoyle (D-Eugene) gave up her legislative seat in 2016 to run against Avakian in the Democratic primary for secretary of state. (He beat her but lost to Republican Dennis Richardson in the general election.) Her opponent, Lou Ogden, has been mayor of Tualatin, an unpaid position, for 24 years.
Today, Hoyle works part time at the University of Oregon. Ogden is an insurance agent and helps oversee a family farm in Illinois.
Although the office is nonpartisan, the candidates' affiliations are telling. Hoyle, a Democrat, is supported strongly by trade unions. Ogden, a Republican, has support mostly from GOP lawmakers and a handful of wealthy conservatives. (Until he was recruited to the race in February by people who didn't want Hoyle to get a free ride, he was running for Washington County chair.)
Hoyle is an advocate for improving vocational training. She says she will also put resources into resolving workplace disputes faster and more decisively. Ogden says employers are overregulated and choking on red tape. His platform is thin soup, and its ingredients are mostly anecdotes. In an interview, he cited one company's difficulty in complying with family medical leave requirements as the kind of government overreach he'd address.
Voters deserve somebody who's thought more deeply about workplace regulation. Hoyle has. Choose her.
Most embarrassing thing Facebook knows about Hoyle: "It's a tie between my late-'70s and early-'80s hairstyle [high and tight] and the inordinate number of pictures of food I post," Hoyle says.