Thank You, Governor Kulongoski

Evan Manvel

Thank You, Governor Kulongoski

Today the Oregon Capitol Foundation joined legislative leaders to unveil the official portrait of Governor Kulongoski outside the Senate chamber.

It was a chance to appreciate Oregon artists, several of whom attended, including Kulongoski’s portraitist Eduardo Fernandez with his family, Governor Roberts’ portraitist Aimee Erickson, Portland impressionist and realist Thomas Kitts, and Portland realist Jeremy Dubow.

But was mainly a chance to reflect on Kulongoski’s legacy. Roughly two hundred people attended, including four governors and a collection of staff, media, elected officials, lobbyists, and family members. Those who spoke reflected on Kulongoski’s four decades of public service, from his days as a state legislator, Insurance Commissioner, Attorney General, and Oregon Supreme Court Justice, to his past eight years as Oregon’s 36th governor.

Known as a quiet governor (both a strength and a weakness), Governor Kulongoski has a long list of accomplishments after eight years. Harry Esteve summarized the work in a wonderful article in The Oregonian January 1st:

On [Kulongoski’s] watch, the state gave health coverage to tens of thousands of low-income children, doubled financial aid spending for needy college students, all but ended a scourge of meth labs, gained worldwide recognition as a hot spot for solar companies, opened a spate of new parks, and put one of its environmental gems, the Metolius River, off-limits to developers.

Kulongoski will go down as the governor who took the first steps to hold down the exploding costs of public employee retirement pay, and who twice froze state wages, in both cases defying the unions that helped bring him to power.

Kulongoski pushed for cleaner energy sources, oversaw expanded rights for same-sex couples, and worked to increase spending on transportation. He also worked hard to support the Oregon National Guard, and once ate for a week using food bought with food stamps, garnering national media attention. His portrait reflects his passions and service – from the National Guard flag to a painting-in-painting of Mount Hood.

There are huge unfinished tasks - reforming higher education, stabilizing the state budget for the long term, and addressing the climate crisis at the scale science demands. And as Kulongoski noted, his list of accomplishments (and unfinished tasks) are shared by the last four legislatures, which had a mix of leaders from both parties, and by the Governor’s staff and state agency staff and commissioners. The Governor choked up when thanking his wife, Mary Oberst, for her lifetime of support and serving as his conscience. They all deserve credit for the progress made.

Yet today is a day to say thank you, Governor Theodore R. Kulongoski, for your four decades of service to Oregon. Your dedication to improving this state we call home is an inspiration.

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    And now for something completely different:

    The alternate view on the Governor from Steve Duin's column in Monday's Oregonian:

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      I've read both Esteve and Duin. As we move along in history, I think they both missed what will be Kulongoski's primary historical failing. He never recognized, or, at least, never acted in response to, the largest historical trend of our times: the shift in global economic and geopolitical power from the West to the East (aka the rise of China). For all his concern for our National Guard troops, and I applaud him, he never joined in the efforts to prepare Oregonians for the national security threat coming from the Far East.

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    Here's a larger format view of the Kulongoski portrait.

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      I think the background objects (the National Guard flag, the scales of justice, the law books, and the mountain painting) are appropriate. But, within this portrait, Kulongoski seems small, or rather diminished or more removed. I'd have preferred a portrait with his image larger and more immediate.

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    And yes, thank you to Governor Kulongoski. His service is appreciated.

    I have friends who've served in Afghanistan and Iraq, and I know that his dedication to those Oregon troops has not gone unnoticed.

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    One of the things I miss about being a journalist is having the opportunity to interview governors and other political leaders.

    I was at the capitol for both of Kulongoski's inaugurations, and have interviewed him many times over the years. He was always an easy interview, and provided straightforward answers to questions. I will always appreciate his candor, and wish him the very best.

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    He served us well, modestly and tirelessly. Time for he and Mary to enjoy the state they love.

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    Evan, thanks for the post.

    I too applaud Ted and I think historians will ultimately acknowledge that he was a very good governor during some very difficult national and international times, and a role model of commitment to public service.

    I encourage people to watch the Willamette Week interview with Ted. His openness, honesty, sense of history and place shine through.

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    I also think Ted deserves our thanks. Rarely does a person enter public service with so obviously sincere interests. I think we should thank anyone, of any party, who serves. In Ted's case, though, we have the somewhat rare instance of a man coming to the end of a long career on his own terms, at retirement. Kudos.

    Now, having praised the man, may I critique the painting? I think it's a terrible likeness. Ted's straightforwardness and his quality of being an everyman are lost here. I think future generations will pass by the painting and fail to get the measure of the man. Regrettable.

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    Jeff, just to continue the tangent, I have spent a lot of time walking through the presidential portraits gallery in the National Portrait gallery over the past few years. It's located right next to the building where I'm often working.

    I am fascinated on the selections that politicians make for their official portraits. Clinton's original NG portrait, for instance, is absolutely hideous (you can't even view it any more, it's been replaced). GW Bush chose to be painted at his home in Crawford. Reagan's, which were apparently closely managed by Nancy, are of course superb.

    The National Gallery selection is here:

    The portraits in the White House (another take on the same question) are here:

    The original Clinton is here:

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      Super fascinating. Of the National Gallery ones, I really like Ford and Nixon. Ford's doing his impression of Churchill.

      The portraits--at least those on Wikipedia--are amazing. The GW Bush is insanely bad, like something you'd expect to encounter in the velvetirium. Carter's is very authentic--you get a sense of Carter there. Ford's again, is very good. A pipe! Tres transgressive. And the Kennedy is really iconic. Nothing comes close to it in drama ... though Andy Jackson's hair is close.

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    "Kulongoski will go down as the governor who took the first steps to hold down the exploding costs of public employee retirement pay, and who twice froze state wages, in both cases defying the unions that helped bring him to power."

    This was said as if it was a good think to fock over labor. Especially as a Democrat. Sheesh.

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    Thank him for what? He failed to use the bully pulpit except to beat up on working people in talks with the elite at the city club.

    Back in 2004 I spent a lot of time down at 232 NE 9th making calls telling people to vote Ted for Gov. We promised them "good jobs, quality schools, affordable health care and safe communities."

    Now 4 years later, my "good job" is gone, I've exhausted my savings paying for COBRA Health care premiums and now no longer have ANY access to health care. I am competing with college graduates for jobs that in the past were the ones done by kids in high school.

    I am sure the Governor is a nice guy, but he has been Missing In Action, when as Governor he could have been a leader during the absolute worst economic crises since the Great Depression. A crises that has devastated many Oregonians and left us with little hope.

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