Governor: Kate Brown (Democrat)
Stream a podcast of our endorsement, with highlights of some of the more spirited moments of the candidates' interview, here.
Most Oregonians are better off today than when Kate Brown took office.
The personable former juvenile rights lawyer has racked up significant accomplishments as governor. She passed an automatic voter registration bill, greatly enlarging the number of registered voters in the state. (That's increasingly significant as other states abridge voting rights.) In 2015, she signed a family medical leave bill and followed that in 2016 with an aggressive increase in the minimum wage and a coal-to-clean energy bill—a big win for environmentalists. Last year, she pulled together the biggest transportation funding package in state history.
And on Brown's watch, the state has enjoyed record-setting low unemployment and booming tax revenues.
Yet our decision to endorse her was difficult, because in her three years as governor, Brown has struggled to make a dent in the structural problems that afflict Oregon.
Oregon's high school graduation rate is nearly the worst in the country. Our foster care and mental health systems remain deeply troubled. The governor has been largely AWOL on the state's housing crisis. And Brown has mostly ignored a $22 billion unfunded public pension liability; many think that's because she fears crossing the public employee unions who funded her rise to power. The liability of the Public Employee Retirement System is a big reason Oregon's school year is among the nation's shortest and local districts are still laying off teachers, even with a 22 percent increase in the K-12 education budget over the past four years.
Despite our reservations, we are picking Brown, because she's an intelligent, honest public servant whose progressive values align most clearly with the constituents she seeks to serve. And we are hopeful the security of a term free from re-election concerns (she cannot run again in 2022) will provide her the courage, decisiveness and vision that she has lacked so far.
It may be naive to imagine that Brown, 58, could suddenly acquire such characteristics after nearly 30 years as an elected official. Brown won a legislative seat in 1991 and had advanced to secretary of state when her predecessor, Gov. John Kitzhaber, resigned in 2015 amid an influence-peddling scandal. She automatically replaced Kitzhaber, and in 2016, won the race to serve the balance of Kitzhaber's term, easily defeating Dr. Bud Pierce, a Salem oncologist.
However, voters must decide not only whether Brown can grow in office but whether she's a better fit than her Republican opponent, state Rep. Knute Buehler.
Buehler, 54, boasts a rags-to-riches story. A son of high school dropouts, the Roseburg native attended Oregon State University, became OSU's first Rhodes Scholar, went to one of the nation's top medical schools (Johns Hopkins) and moved to Bend, where he became a successful orthopedic surgeon and investor. The governor's seat has been in his cross hairs for years: His first attempt to climb the ladder came in 2012, when he ran against Brown for secretary of state. (Brown won by 8 percentage points.)
In 2014, he won a Bend House seat. In his four years in the House, he earned a reputation as a cerebral, cautious lawmaker, uneasy with the hard-right leanings of his caucus and shunned by Democrats nervous about his ambitions. He serves on the House Health Care and Revenue committees and on the Human Services subcommittee of the Joint Ways and Means Committee. As a junior member of the minority party—and one everybody knew was going to run for governor—Buehler never got a chairman's gavel.
In 2015, he sponsored a groundbreaking bill allowing women to obtain prescription contraception without first seeing a doctor. He crossed the aisle to join Democrats in a coal-to-clean green energy bill and was one of three House Republicans to vote for a modest gun control bill this year.
Despite Democrats' claims to the contrary, Buehler is a moderate who supports policies many Republicans oppose: He's taken some pro-choice positions (although not enough to suit abortion-rights activists), is a supporter of same-sex marriage and is a believer in climate change.
He may be the best GOP candidate for governor we've seen since the late Dave Frohnmayer in 1990. So why aren't we endorsing him?
Well, to begin with, Buehler's message is often sloppy and inconsistent. That may be because he hasn't thought deeply enough about issues or because his desire to hold the GOP base while appealing to Democrats and nonaffiliated voters puts him in a position of trying to please everybody.
An example is his support for Measure 105, which would repeal Oregon's sanctuary law. That law prohibits the use of local law enforcement resources to enforce federal immigration law. Yet in the same breath, Buehler says he doesn't actually want local resources used to enforce federal immigration law. Huh? He says repealing the sanctuary law would clear up "confusion." We think the confusion is his.
In some cases, he makes pledges that are simply ridiculous. He promises as governor to end homelessness, with no real details how he would do it. We've been trying to understand his ambiguous stances on basic issues—transportation funding, the Oregon Health Plan—for a year. We still don't know who he is.
Ultimately, Buehler's running on not being Kate Brown. She, in turn, is running on not being Donald Trump.
We find her argument more compelling.
Oregon is one of only six states where Democrats control both legislative chambers and the governor's office. Further, there are only six women governors in this country—and only two of them are Democrats.
Brown's re-election would give Oregon its best hope of remaining a bulwark of resistance against the culture of misogyny, cruelty and deceit (intellectual and otherwise) that characterizes Trump's regime. Even though Buehler has repeatedly criticized the president's behavior, Trump has made it impossible for us to ask voters to support the Republican brand. This nation's shift to Trumpism is real, significant and dangerous. Oregon must reject it and embrace the incumbent governor.
Also in the race are Patrick Starnes, the Independent Party candidate, who's pushing for campaign finance reform; Libertarian Nick Chen, who'd like less government; Constitution Party candidate Aaron Auer, a minister who opposes same-sex marriage; and Progressive Party nominee Chris Henry, a perennial candidate.
What Brown is afraid of: The governor says a new report on global warming released last week terrified her. "I'm afraid," she says, "the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report is accurate."