What it takes to be Governor

Russell Sadler

What experience does it take to become a successful governor of Oregon?

Governors historically come from varied backgrounds and have reflected a rich variety of experience. Still, for all this variety, a pattern of apprenticeship for Oregon governors has emerged over the last 50 years.

Our story begins with a tragedy. On October 28, 1947 a plane crash near Klamath Falls killed Oregon Gov. Earl Snell, Secretary of State Robert Farrell, Senate President Marshall Cornett and the pilot. House Speaker John Hall, next in the line of succession at that time, automatically became governor. Hall then appointed Earl Newbry Secretary of State.

In an instant, a generation of leadership in the political pipeline all moved up to higher office. Their successors to statewide office created the modern pattern of apprenticeship we now expect from Oregon governors.

The process usually starts with service on a city council, county commission or school board. It is usually followed by service in the Legislature and in statewide elective office -- most often Secretary of State or State Treasurer, but Attorney General and, occasionally, the appellate courts have also served as stepping stones to the governor's office.

Govs. Mark Hatfield, Bob Straub, Vic Atiyeh, Barbara Roberts, John Kitzhaber and Ted Kulongoski served in the Legislature. Kitzhaber was a four-term Senate President. Atiyeh was a businessman, but it was his service on the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee made him a remarkably capable governor for the recession-ridden 80s. Kulongoski held the office of Attorney General and a seat on the Oregon Supreme Court.

Hatfield, Gov. Tom McCall and Roberts were Secretaries of State. Straub was State Treasurer. Gov. Neil Goldschmidt was Mayor of Portland and President Jimmy Carter's Secretary of Transportation before being elected Governor.

We've come this far in our story without mentioning any governor's political party. From the end of the World War II until the late 1980s political parties didn't matter much. Oregon's political culture was a kind of maverick independence where "Oregonians vote for a candidate, not a political party."

In recent years, national political organizations have captured state political parties and demanded adherence to national party ideology as the price of contributions -- no more "innovative solutions" or Oregon mavericks.

In Oregon, neither Republicans nor Democrats represent a majority of registered voters. Any nominee must be able to attract a large number of independent voters to win a statewide election. As Oregon Republicans have moved further to the right they have been unwilling to nominate candidates capable of attracting crucial independent voters in statewide races.

Republicans have not elected a Governor since Vic Atiyeh left office in 1987, a Secretary of State since Norma Paulus left that office in 1985, a State Treasurer since Tony Meeker left that office in 1993 or an Attorney General since Dave Frohnmayer left in 1991.

This means the people in the traditional apprenticeship pipeline for the governor's office are Democrats. Custom suggests Gov. Ted Kulongoski will have the nomination if he wants to run for reelection. It is unlikely Democrats will subject Kulongoski to a bruising primary that might jeopardize his reelection chances.

Secretary of State Bill Bradbury, State Treasurer Randall Edwards, Attorney General Hardy Myers, even Superintendent of Public Instruction Susan Castillo all have served the traditional apprenticeship voters appear to expect of candidates for governor. The Democrats have a pretty deep pool of talent whether or not Kulongoski runs for a second term. (He will. He is wisely waiting until the Legislature adjourns to make it official.)

The problem is there are no competitive Republicans waiting in the wings to run for governor with the traditional apprenticeship background. Republican Party Chairman Kevin Mannix wants the nomination, but Mannix has lost three straight campaigns for statewide office. Another run risks creating the image of a perennial candidate.

Portland businessman Ron Saxton is using a nicely crafted newspaper column to maintain statewide visibility, but he is probably too moderate for the true believers who now control the Oregon Republican Party, and lacking sufficient experience in state government to win the confidence of independent voters.

State Sen. Jason Atkinson says he is interested in the Republican nomination. While he carries a famous family name -- his father, Perry Atkinson, is a former state Republican chairman and a leader of the Christian wing of the party -- he lacks sufficient experience in state government. Jason Atkinson is quietly and successfully making it clear he is his own man politically and gaining some statewide visibility.

If Oregon Republicans intend to be competitive for statewide elective office they have to nominate candidates that can attract the independent votes they need to get elected, or persuade voters that some alternative form of preparation or experience is just as good as Oregon's traditional apprenticeship pipeline to the governor's office.

Comments

  • mcbanx (unverified)
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    I fail to see how this article fits in with the description of what Blue Oregon is supposed to be about. Is having "competitive Republicans waiting in the wings" really a progressive problem? I think if there was a competitive republican waiting in the wings, now that might be a problem.

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    Absolutely. Bring on Kevin Mannix!

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    That's pretty provincial guys. I'm telling you your party is winning the governor's office by default -- not because you have superior candidates or progams. Voters -- especially independents -- fear the Republican candidates. They aren't cheering wildly over yours.

    Oregon Democrats are moribund and you need to do something about that. Where's the spirit of the old Demoforum?

    The Oregon Bus Project engergize e new generation of Democratic activists. I don't see or hear anyone taking advantagee of that.

    As a party mcbanx, you are going to have to offering something better than fear of wingnuts as an alternative -- your Senators can't even get behind your governor's appointments to get the State Board of Forestry out of the 1950's.

    And you fail to see what my post is all about. Typical.

  • allehseya (unverified)
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    The problem is there are no competitive Republicans waiting in the wings to run for governor with the traditional apprenticeship background.

    I wouldnt call this a 'problem' -- I would call it a 'blessing'. In any event, with all things considered, State Sen. Jason Atkinson is someone I wouldnt underestimate or blow-off as a non-candidate. In addition, I don't think that Gov. Ted Kulongoski deserves to be placed in the winner strictly by default category either.

  • Chris Bouneff (unverified)
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    Russell -- I'm guessing there's a lot of us out here who see the point. I see this as a tremendous problem for a state that prided itself on its mavericks. We've been living off that myth for too long now. It's time to make our myth a reality in Oregon again.

    I'd love to see a Vic Atiyeh or Mark Hatfield type, or anyone on the R side who can challenged the Dems and get this state thinking forward again. I miss the spirited debates that we used to have. Too bad the good R's can't survive the nuts who dominate the primaries.

  • LT (unverified)
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    I believe we need a competitive Republican (not Mannix, more along the lines of Max Williams or Ben Westlund) to shake Democrats out of their doldrums. And as far as nuts surviving primaries, may I point out that primary voters are those who are registered with a party by the registration deadline? Independents who are tired of the situation can look at the field after Filing Day and register with the party with the most interesting set of primary contests (Gov. and state legislature in 2006, for instance). Don't tell me that is difficult--it is what I did in 2002.

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    I agree with one of Russell's main points- that progressives need to offer something more compelling than just a repudiation of Republicanism.

    However, the original post and subsequent comments are all assuming a weak Republican field in 06. I think people underestimate Mannix and the rest- and need to only look at Kulongoski's performance three years ago for a wake up call.

    Yes, Mannix lost three times, but the last race was extremely close- and he won Washington and Clackamas counties. Also, Mannix is the type of candidate who thrives when Dems don't fill the campaign with our own ideas and issues.

    I realize this stories been told a million times, but I think that there are lessons to be learned from Carter-Reagan 1980. The Dems were ecstatic that the Rs would nominate such a "nutcase" as Reagan, and thought he'd be dead in a general election.

    Mannix isn't Reagan, but the Dems need to not get too complacent. Plus, while it's true that conservatives heavily control their primary, 06 is going to be a much lower turnout election than 04- and candidates with intensity tend to do much better.

    I still think Ted should win, but the Dems should be prepared for a real fight even itf Mannix is the nominee.

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    I agree with one of Russell's main points- that progressives need to offer something more compelling than just a repudiation of Republicanism.

    However, the original post and subsequent comments are all assuming a weak Republican field in 06. I think people underestimate Mannix and the rest- and need to only look at Kulongoski's performance three years ago for a wake up call.

    Yes, Mannix lost three times, but the last race was extremely close- and he won Washington and Clackamas counties. Also, Mannix is the type of candidate who thrives when Dems don't fill the campaign with our own ideas and issues.

    I realize this stories been told a million times, but I think that there are lessons to be learned from Carter-Reagan 1980. The Dems were ecstatic that the Rs would nominate such a "nutcase" as Reagan, and thought he'd be dead in a general election.

    Mannix isn't Reagan, but the Dems need to not get too complacent. Plus, while it's true that conservatives heavily control their primary, 06 is going to be a much lower turnout election than 04- and candidates with intensity tend to do much better.

    I still think Ted should win, but the Dems should be prepared for a real fight even itf Mannix is the nominee.

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    Also, I don't think the Governor's team is taking things for granted. Im encouraged that they've hired Paige Richardson to run the race- and who's one of the best managers around.

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    Ayup. Paige is the grrrrl for the job. She's made her bones in a couple of tough races (Think Baird in SW Washington, not exactly a hotbed of liberal thought) and getting an Oregon win for the feckless John Kerry was nothing short of miraculous.

    One imagines a less cautious Kulongoski might be seen in the next eighteen months. After this session is over, he'll be in campaign mode and will need to keep an eye on Sorensen among others leading up to the primary.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)
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    We'll see if Ted in campaign mode is different from the last time. That was just about the most cautious campaign I ever almost missed completely.

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