Observations on the Governor’s Race Coverage

Jesse Cornett

At the Oregon Summit over the past weekend, I was thrilled with the relatively positive tenor of the candidate forum. Unlike two years ago where the tension between the Steve Novick and Jeff Merkley was so thick you could cut it with a knife, the candidates for governor seemed to be more focused on themselves and their ideas rather than their opponent.

Unfortunately, the media coverage of the race seems to be trending against the positivity.  First, from this week’s Willamette Week:

We confess…the prospect of a 2010 Oregon gubernatorial race dominated by used-to-be pols and regular wannabes threatens to knock us into a never-ending nap.

I hate to break it to the media but it’s not the gubernatorial candidates job to entertain reporters or even keep you awake. It’s about democracy and informing the voters. If you want interesting, cover the runoff election in Afghanistan. Now that’s interesting!

Now Steve Duin, well he takes the cake. If the candidates won’t mix it up, he’s apparently happy to do it for them.

In Kitzhaber's glory years, he showed little interest in reining in PERS and annoying the public employee unions that are the Democratic Party's biggest boosters.

He was content with the status quo at SAIF -- which paid Neil Goldschmidt's firm more than $1 million in "consulting" fees and spent $20,000 on motivational speakers at its annual meetings -- because, he once told an industry lobbyist, it was too much trouble to mess with an agency whose defenders were armed with machine guns.

He was delighted to give tavern owners 35 percent of the video lottery commissions, and happy to cede control of the Oregon Investment Council and the state's economic development agency to members of Goldschmidt's extended political family.

Me personally. I like Bill Bradbury. As a former staffer of his, I remain fond of him. I like John Kitzhaber too but admit I don’t know him nearly as well.  Steve Shields: underwhelmed would be the only work I could use to describe his performance at Sunriver. Gentlemen: I stand prepared to be bored to tears by you, if that’s the alternative to you tearing at each other.

  • bradley (unverified)

    You nailed it, Jesse. The newspapers have very different jobs than voters. They need interesting copy to pump up readership and sell advertising. We don't need interesting stories, but could use some leadership and ideas.

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    I would still like to see some serious debates about policy differences. The only one I heard during the first debate was Bradbury stating he wanted to raise $2B more in taxes for education. (He didn't use that language, but that's the implication of his stated goal of eductation funding.) Kitzhaber was not on board that idea.

    Kitzhaber promised lots of strong policy positions in the coming weeks, but didn't offer any in the debate nor did Shields. Bradbury didn't offer any other ideas other than forming a panel on education. I hoped for more from all of them.

  • Observer (unverified)

    The candidates need interesting stories, or perhaps compelling narratives, as well if they're going to have a chance of winning. If they can't entertain the media, they can't entertain use either.

    It's not just about leadership and ideas. If the Democratic primary is substantive but blah, that's not going to help turnout during the general. There's got to be some spice.

    Of course, tearing each other apart probably isn't the best way to do that, but it does bring attention to the candidates, and no one's going to vote for you if they don't know who you are. Here's hoping for a constructive and compelling Democratic primary and some accurate and interesting stories to boot.

  • Lord Beaverbrook (unverified)

    I hate to break it to the media but it’s not the gubernatorial candidates job to entertain reporters or even keep you awake.

    The most cynical politics I've ever seen was in Louisiana, where it has wholly become the domain of politics to entertain. I remember during the Duke-Edwards-can't remember his name but he won, race, that people were very upset. We all were. But by then I'd learned not to take anything there at face value. I was in a convenience store and Duke was making a speech, and the clerk turned to me and said, "isn't that just awful"? Rather than automatically agreeing, I said, "How so?". She replied, "this isn't going to be very entertaining. The national press are covering the Governor's race so closely that they're not free to say what they normally would."

    A neo-nazi is a serious contender for the Governor's mansion, and her biggest concern was that they wouldn't get to see Edwin Edwards ask a reporter for her phone number in the middle of a stump speech. I learned then that that is what the depths of depravity, in the political world looks like. Or maybe when it's beyond that an no one cares at all. Bobby Jindal doesn't seem like he would have placed very well on their gubernatorial Gong Show.

    Your points brought back bad memories.

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)

    The tension between novick and Merkley WAS real in my recollection. there were several posts here about that very item. If I remember correctly, Novick was the grass roots politician, the people's candidate and Merkley was percieved as the DPO candidate, the machine's candidate.

    Now we have a very interesting race that I look forward to. Duin is not totally off base. Kitz is the retired and retread former governor running who has to convince voters he is different. He did preside over some good and not-so-good issues previously. Bradbury is the machine's candidate, he waited patiently and did the DPO thing while waiting his turn to run, Only Shields is the outlyer

    No, candidates do not need to tear each other apart. They need to engage with actual ideals and differences on how to approach the issues of Oregon now and in the future during their administration.

  • Bill R. (unverified)

    News media outlets don't do journalism any more. They don't even pretend to want to inform the public. And they find it boring to actually present policy issues. Journalism has been replaced by infotainment. And newspapers can't compete with tabloid tv (Although WW and the O sure try,) so that's why they are all going broke. And as for the public, they want bread and circuses. Any one who wants to can construct their own best newscast using the net sources.

  • LT (unverified)

    Jesse, Thanks for this--it was my impression from what I read here about the Summit.

    "At the Oregon Summit over the past weekend, I was thrilled with the relatively positive tenor of the candidate forum. Unlike two years ago where the tension between the Steve Novick and Jeff Merkley was so thick you could cut it with a knife, the candidates for governor seemed to be more focused on themselves and their ideas rather than their opponent."

    And I think one way to stimulate debate is to fact check the Duin quote. Not the way I remember those years.

    Did Kitzhaber alone affirmatively do all those things? If so, there should be proof of that. Or was he too busy vetoing bad bills (a former GOP state rep. admitted to me once that there was an attitude in the House of "Let's pass this because the Gov. doesn't like it and MAKE him veto it!") and trying to prevent worse ideas from happening?

    Does anyone remember when the Senate was 20-10 GOP and the Sen. Pres. and Majority Leader went public and said "The Gov. refused to communicate with us on this issue!"? Turned out Kitzhaber had written them a letter asking to work with them on the bill and saying honestly, "If the bill allows for ---- I would be able to sign it, but if it contains ___, it is a bill I would veto". Honest and above board is how that sounds to me. The Senators had wanted him to see it their way, hence he "hadn't communicated".
    So, Gov. Kitzhaber made a public statement, released the text of the letter, and made copies available on a table in the Governor's ceremonial office.

    Call him anything you like, but I would love to have an outspoken Gov. like that again. Or for that matter like Gov. Atiyeh who had regularly scheduled news conferences.

    That 20-10 GOP Senate was a real piece of work, and they did other arrogant things--incl. acting like "At 20-10 majority, why do we need any other branch of government?".

    As a friend of mine used to say, "Hubris is followed by nemesis". Members and leadership acted invincible and some said dumb things publicly. The voters in their wisdom shrank that majority to 17 in the next election, as I recall, then to 15. Then in 2002, with the help of a new group called the Oregon Bus Project, the majority vanished, and Senators had to learn to cooperate with each other to get things done in a 15-15 session.

    By all means, let's hear more detailed debate. But let's hear it on current topics: For instance, in education the role of oversight of school district management dropout prevention *what can be done with technology and what takes actual people.

    What are their views of budget and tax reform?

    How good a job are they doing in educating the public about the January measures? Do they ask audiences how many people know there is a special election in January? Do they make sure citizens they talk to understand the issues involved? Lots of people are not yet entirely aware there is an election in January.

    Aside from the January election, though, October is early in the process.

    And let's keep it on current and future concerns, OK?

    I have seen the emails the Bus Project sends out recruiting volunteers to register people for the January election. With any luck, those folks would also vote in the Gov. primary. Too much debate about the past risks sounding to a 20 year old like "Back when you were in elementary school, something happened which we believe matters in the Gov. campaign".
    If a 20 year old heard that and thought it was nonsense or didn't matter to that person or their group of friends, exactly how would such a debate help a Gov. candidate?

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    The tension between novick and Merkley WAS real in my recollection. there were several posts here about that very item. If I remember correctly, Novick was the grass roots politician, the people's candidate and Merkley was percieved as the DPO candidate, the machine's candidate.

    Uh...I really don't want to rehash this old, dead stuff...but in my view that is a really off-base characterization of the situation.

    I'm not going to get into it because it only starts old fights that should remain finished. But that characterization is very wrong.

  • LT (unverified)

    Right on Carla!

    And it would seem to me that a candidate who says "Here is what I stand for, and I will be happy to answer any questions" who finds ways to have town hall meetings (in public venues wherever possible so that the truly undecided don't think they should only go to an event at a person's home only if they are already leaning to that candidate) is showing grass roots strength and the ability to discuss serious issues with the public. There are enough college Democratic groups, county party meetings, civic groups, etc. around that a smart campaign should be able to find a number of such opportunities. There are people here in Salem who feel Kitzhaber won in 1994 because he was able to do that sort of thing in a way many people had not seen since maybe the days of Straub, Atiyeh or McCall.

    A co-worker says her family kept a scorecard last year on the presidential candidates of both parties. One category was "gave responsive answers to questions". She voted for the candidate she thought scored best in that category.

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)

    Carla, I didn't want to bring it up either - but Jesse DID. The sad truth is that is the perception of the bitter primary battle between Novik and Merkley. Sad but true. We should face it and move on. I think we all agree that the democratic governors primary contest shold not become that.

    Loke LT, we should be looking for candidates who are willing to engage us regarding the issues, the concerns and their plans rather than partisan or inter-party hatchet jobs.

  • Miles (unverified)

    There's nothing wrong with what Duin wrote. Kitz didn't challenge the unions on PERS, even when it became clear the system was unsustainable. That debacle did far more to damage Oregonian's view of their government and its hard-working public servants than almost anything else in the last 20 years.

    On the lottery he didn't question the 35% commissions, and that policy decision has damaged education in the state of Oregon. Of course he wasn't the only one to avoid the fight. But that's a weak defense of the indefensible. (Look, look, he was as scared of the restaurant lobbyists as I was!)

    Kitzhaber may be the strongest, best candidate. But the coronation happening in the Democratic party right now is disgusting. (And it IS a coronation -- no one believes Bradbury and Shields have a chance, which is why no one's going hard after Kitz.) Duin's point is that there are substantive questions that Kitz should answer, and if his opponents aren't going to ask them, it's the editorial writer's job to do so.

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    Back to Jesse's main point: The media definitely seem to think that point of a campaign is to entertain them. It wasn't just WW's item - but there has been similar sentiment expressed by Anna Griffin and Jeff Mapes at the O.

    Anna Griffin:

    Race for Oregon's top job should be exciting, not an extended nap Journalists and political observers wept in our herbal tea last week when Peterson, chairwoman of the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners, decided not to run for governor next year. ... We cried not so much because Peterson was an obvious winner but because this race is looking so unbelievably boring.

    And Jeff Mapes complained of "A snorefest for Demo candidates in Medford?". He wasn't there, but apparently the Mail-Tribunes report that the candidates were mostly in agreement meant it was a boring "snorefest".

    Political coverage these days is all about the horse race and the day-to-day grenade-tossing. If the media would instead write about things that really matter - policy positions, leadership style, competence - and do it in a way that's actually meaningful to reporters, our democracy would be better served.

  • Rebekah Orr (unverified)


    You know I completely respect you and I certainly share some of your concerns about media coverage and the tendency of campaigns to turn into entertainment events instead of democratic debates about ideas and solutions to problems.

    But, I will tell you--despite my personal appreciation for both Bill and John--that I think this race is a total freakin' snooze.

    And not because the candidates are avoiding "tearing into one another" but because this race really offers Oregonians nothing new--just a rehashing of a former Governor's record and another opportunity for the state to reject a multiple-time gubernatorial candidate who for whatever reason has never gotten folks very excited. Sorry, I know that is brutal...but it is the truth.

    With all of the political talent in this state I think it is troubling that we seem to have such a tough time recruiting that talent to the race for Governor (on both sides of the aisle, quite frankly). Brian Clem might be young (and playing "good Democrat" by bowing out when Kitz announced) but he would have at least added something interesting and refreshing to the race.

    And I think we need only look to the nominating process for SD 22 and HD 43 to see how fresh faces and a good pool of diverse candidates energized not only the district, but the entire community. We need a race like THAT for Governor or progressives will eventually (if not soon) lose the Governor's seat. It would not only be bad for Ds in the Legislature and bad for the party, but terrible for the State of Oregon.

  • nulwee (unverified)

    This narrative of Kitzhaber's "invincibility" sounds all too familiar to someone who followed the presidential race from the get-go in fall 2006.

    Then there's popularity. In theory Kitz is just invincibly popular, and his mixed record is defended with yeah buts of "the Republican legislature". Yet Kitz couldn't even win a blowout majority at the straw poll, with Bradbury keeping him under 40.

    I also like Bradbury. I don't think Bradbury's jobs platform is comprehensive enough (wind power is going to solve our dismal unemployment?) but I think Bradbury is a hell of a lot more responsive to the people of the state than Kitzhaber. The symbols speak volumes. From where the candidates have announced and spoke, and who they're affiliated with. Me, I think Oregon's rich have done quite well enough. We need someone who stands with the working class.

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    once again i challenge people to do something truly difficult. like research. read what the Archimedes Movement is doing, what their goals are, and tell me that's a rehash of Kitz' governorship. he has actually paid attention to the changesin American politics since 2003 and has learned those lessons. a 2nd Kitzhaber Admin will be a different creature because these are different times, he's a different person (fatherhood & divorce will do that to a person, believe me) and we live in a different world. this idea that he's a rehash of himself from 20 years ago is ridiculous. anyone who listens to him understands he has not been stuck in time.

    neither should we.

  • nulwee (unverified)

    Miles wrote:

    Kitzhaber may be the strongest, best candidate. But the coronation happening in the Democratic party right now is disgusting. (And it IS a coronation -- no one believes Bradbury and Shields have a chance, which is why no one's going hard after Kitz.)

    So agreed.

    What the silk-suit crowd can't account for are the inevitable unexpected events of the future. The election is a long ways.

    Kitzhaber has more weaknesses than they'll admit. The activists are going to hold him accountable sooner or later. Platitudes are not an acceptable salve for real concerns about a reckless real estate market, unemployment and one-fifth of our state going hungry.

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)

    t.a., I respect your opinions and writings, but really, the Archimedes Project is about health care only. And quite frankly, it is not the greatest thing in the world. It is one approach that may be unworkable. It does not, however address the other very concerning issues from Kitz's last administrations that have been brought up.

    Kitz is not my first choice until he actually engages in, and distances himself from his previous stints in Mahonia. In the case of politics, past performance IS an indicator of future results.

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    As one of the principles of the Novick-Merkley primary, let me remind everyone exactly how negative it was. The negativity went like this:

    Novick: Jeff Merkley voted for a resolution praising George Bush for invading Iraq. Merkley: Steve Novick said mean things about Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

    We both wanted to win, and we fought hard. But if you think that's a bitter, negative campaign, you must not have been around for Clinton / Tsongas, or Dukakis / Gephardt, or Humphrey / JFK.

  • (Show?)

    Hi Steve, thanks for your comment but sorry you felt compelled to comment.

    My goal here was to talk about the media coverage of the governor's race and the most recent Oregon comparison that I had was about the 2008 Senate campaign. I could have used a more obscure reference but I didn't. Let's all get back to 2010 now, huh?

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    Kurt, your statement about Archimedes shows you have not done what i suggested: research. Archimedes is about changing how we do government. health care is the first issue, the starting point. at last Friday's conference in Salem, i asked Kitz what issue Archimedes is likely to address next, and he suggested education - pretty logical for Oregon. as Archimedes grows, it will expand the issues it addresses for one very good reason: it's real issue is the participation of ordinary citizens in the decision-making process that we call "government".

    his "past" behavior as governor was quite a few years ago and involved right-wing legislatures that were busy sliding towards Minnisville. it was pre-9/11, it was pre-Bush, and it was pre-Dean/Obama. like i said, he's learned a lot from all that. hence the ardent support of Joe Trippi, among others. you are welcome to not support him (duh) but do so on the basis of current circumstances and not recollections of the last century.

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)

    t.a. I'll go back and read the Archimedes web page, but as I said - It only appears to be speaking about Kitzhauber's new approach to medical care and government involvment. I'll try as I like the challenge.

    I think a more honest review of the governor's accomplishments of the past two decades (like the reference to a past century though) would be more telling that what he promises to do this go round. But then I remain open minded and hopeful.

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    All of the Democratic candidates will hold their cards close until January. Kitzhaber's campaign arranged a series of meetings for the governor while he was in Jackson County. I attended one of those meetings. The governor asked a great many questions and discussed policy positions with nine of us for nearly an hour.

  • matthew vantress (unverified)

    the whole problem is none of you liberals have the guts to ask tough questions to kitzhaber and bradbury.could someone please ask them what are they going to do to get oregons unemployment rate down?also ask when are you going to demand that schools stop whining like little 2 year old kids constantly about funding and demand that schools be better efficient in their spending and get rid of nonsense they dont need like consultants?how about asking them if they will demand big cuts in the size of the state govt?kitzhaber and bradbury are 2 of the absolute worst candidates for governor oregon has ever had.they have no vision on creating private sector jobs and reducing taxes,fees and regulation.it appalls me that so many of you here on blue oregon support awful liberal candidates with dismal track records.

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    So whatever happened to that Oregon Better Health Act?

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    OK, I'm supporting John Kitzhaber - but the notion that he's inevitable or invincible is utter nonsense. Bill Bradbury is a strong candidate, a worthy opponent, and - if nominated and elected - would be a fine governor.

    I can appreciate Rebekah's concern that this is a "snooze" - but given that the candidates have been in the race for a mere few weeks, and are both still in the getting-staffed-up phase of the campaign, I'd suggest that there's going to be plenty of time for them to make it interesting... from a policy discussion standpoint.

    What's troublesome is the handwringing from the media that it's not entertaining. The point isn't to be entertaining. It's to have a meaningful debate over the future of Oregon.

    If ever there was a time for a strong debate about the policies and leadership styles that Oregon needs, this is it. But that's a far cry from entertaining reporters with witty ripostes.

  • KCleland (unverified)

    Do Oregonians want a Coronation? Nope, I don't think so. So why are "we" crowning someone? Oregon has problems that are much larger than healthcare. We need to tackle the economy, state funding and education so we have an engine to fuel the services and support we want to provide citizens Oregon. We have a quality of life that we like, we need to fuel that quality with real dollars in a real economy.

    I agree with nulwee, its a long ways until the primary. I encourage all of you on this forum to get to know Steve. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised about how strong a candidate he is.

  • KCleland (unverified)

    Is Bradbury the only "worthy opponent"?

    What the media and participants in this and other forums seem to overlook is that there is a new person in the race, and that is Steve Shields. I find it disturbing that there is a strong call from the media and Dem forums for new ideas and new candidates, BUT when a new candidate with good credentials emerges, he is apparently dismissed as "not a contender" before he even starts campaigning. Steve has only been a declared candidate for 8 days. And yet the media and pundits know everything about him to be able to say "not credible" already. Ridiculous. Yes. Productive? No.

    (this was supposed to be in the same post as the comment above, but somehow it got chopped in the posting.)

  • LT (unverified)

    Matthew: "the whole problem is none of you liberals have the guts to ask tough questions to kitzhaber and bradbury"

    Tell us right here what tough question you would ask Kitzhaber, Shields, Bradbury, Lim and Alley (not capitalizing that last name would make it look like a noun, not a name).

    Then contact the offices of each of their campaigns and let us know what response you got.

    Or maybe it is such early days that the campaigns have not yet gotten organized enough to be able to answer a voter question?

  • matthew vantress (unverified)

    read my post lt i would like you scared liberals to ask kitzhaber and bradbury what exactly are you going to do to get our unemployment rate down and put people in the private sector back to work?are you going to real visible to the average private sector citizen unlike kulongoski who we never see.k cleland we already very well fund education at 10,000 bucks a kid.sorry kari chisholm bradbury is not a strong candidate at all.

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)

    LT, here is the #1 tough question I would want answered by any politician:

    Q - With PERS rates projected to skyrocket in the next five (5) years, what are your concrete plans to address the situation. Please include specifics about bargaining with the public employee unions, back-end payments required and carry forward costs.

    BTW, two of the candidates have first hand knowledge of the issue that they either helped create or exacerbate.

  • Grant Schott (unverified)

    Regarding media coverage of this and other races, the sad trend is that outside of The Oregonian and a few other statewide like the Salem SJ and Eugene RJ, few papers are going to give much coverage to the race or any race beyond AP stories, the obligatory endorsement interview, and maybe fundraising updates. Anyone who has worked a legislative race knows how hard it is to get papers to cover candidates. Gov and U.S. senate candidates get more coverage than anyone, but not enough.

    Even W Week, which I thought use to have good political coverage, doesn't seem to offer much anymore outside of their weekly "murmurs" update and their pre election day endorsement issue.

    The local TV networks, like most nationally I suppose, are too busy covering crime, sports and weather to worry about politics. There are some exceptions. The late and legendary TV news personality and producer Ancil Payne, Mitchell, OR native who started out out KGW, turned the King NBC affiliate in Seattle into a respected news organization that provided good political coverage. That was a definate expectation, though.

  • LT (unverified)

    I saw part of the Steve Shields interview on KGW Straight Talk last night. While he needs to dump the "outsiders have a fresh view" rhetoric for specific examples, he did say some intelligent things.

    But there's the deal: it is the obligation of statewide candidates to engage in debate. Do the other Gov. candidates agree with some of the specific things he said, or even know what he said?

    Might there be more to education in this state than endless funding debates and the online learning Dave Porter pushes for?

    If someone has, for example, a Masters in some science discipline (physics, physiology, or whatever), should they look at becoming a science teacher? Or would they just get bashed for not working in "the private sector"? Would it be good for Oregon's economy to have talented science teachers who could inspire young people to careers in science which might lead to research or inventions?

    Or are teachers just "those unionized public employees"?

    Not to mention budget and tax overhaul, kicker reform, etc.

    <h2>Lots to talk about, here, on candidate websites, in speeches to small and large groups, etc.</h2>

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