Reprinted from the Oregonian, October 13, 2018
Editorial Endorsement: Knute Buehler for Oregon Governor
Before Oregonians cast their vote for governor they should first recognize what this race is not about. It's not about abortion rights, despite ads attempting to cast it as a wedge issue between pro-choice Democratic Gov. Kate Brown and her pro-choice Republican opponent, Rep. Knute Buehler.
It's not about who aligns best with Portland metro area residents, despite the focus on the region and its immense voting power.
And it's not about Donald Trump, despite his administration's reckless stances and callous policies that have kept people across the country in a continual state of alarm.
Simply, the Oregon governor's race is about who can best lead Oregon in tackling the human and economic crises unfolding on our home turf. From the state's distressed K-12 education system to the critical need for pension reform to encouraging more affordable-housing construction, Oregon is running out of time to responsibly address these challenges. With little vision and no urgency by Brown in her nearly four years as governor, and insufficient experience from Independent Party nominee Patrick Starnes, voters fortunately have a strong alternative. Oregonians should vote for the candidate who is willing to take courageous action on these entrenched problems and mark their ballots for Knute Buehler.
Buehler, 54, may lack the name recognition of Brown, who has been in political office for decades as a legislator, secretary of state and governor since former Gov. John Kitzhaber resigned in February 2015 amid a corruption probe. But the Republican nominee, who is a native Oregonian and orthopedic surgeon, has built up his own impressive record as a two-term state representative from Bend, a district in which Democrats hold a registration edge.
While his votes have tracked with his caucus on fiscal issues, he has broken with his party many times, reflecting his moderate outlook on social issues. He voted with Democrats to adopt a gun control measure banning firearms ownership by people convicted of domestic abuse; voted in favor of a bill raising some real-estate document recording fees to help fund housing initiatives; and he even carried the bill on the House floor that gave women the ability to seek birth control prescriptions from a pharmacist, rather than having to go to a doctor. He also was among Republican legislators developing a more broad-based funding solution for the Medicaid expansion than the temporary package that was signed into law.
But it's not his background so much as his priorities and concrete ideas for Oregon that should win over voters. Improving the quality of education for Oregon's K-12 students is his top priority with an ambitious goal of moving the system from the bottom five in the nation to the top five in five years. More than any other aspect of state government, K-12 education illustrates Brown's profound failure to lead.
Buehler has a long list of proposals to flesh out his vision. They include devoting 15 percent more in General Fund dollars to the K-12 education budget to help pay for lengthening the school year from the 165-day average to 180 days. He aims to reduce class sizes and add reading aides, with the goal that every third grader meets reading benchmarks. He describes establishing an ROTC-like scholarship program to train Oregon teachers and increase diversity within their ranks. And he would restructure Oregon's broken public-employee pension system to help districts direct more dollars to serving students while still ensuring fair retirements for teachers. That priority is particularly important considering that even with record-high education spending in the 2017-2019 biennium - 11 percent more than the budget cycle before - school districts have had to cut teachers and programs to cover skyrocketing pension and health care benefits. Left unchecked, those burdens will sink our schools.
Contrast Buehler's education platform with Brown, whose vision consists mostly of initiatives left by Kitzhaber, programs dictated by voters or priorities pushed by the teachers' union. (Interestingly, her chief education officer is a union official who has zero experience as an educator.) Two years after voters passed a career-and-technical education initiative to improve graduation and dropout rates, she is only now committing to fully fund it, championing it as a key part of her plan. And so perhaps, it's not that surprising that the state continues to have the third-worst graduation rate in the country, test scores show declines or little progress and the last two years of data for dropouts and chronic absenteeism show no improvement.
In fact, when asked by The Oregonian/OregonLive Editorial Board why there hasn't been more progress in education, Brown said it's still coming together. "You will not see more progress until we literally have what I call a seamless system of education from cradle to career," she said, referencing the initiative created by Kitzhaber that her administration is building out. She added that investments in pre-kindergarten will help ensure that students show up to kindergarten "ready to learn."
No one, particularly the families of the 600,000 students currently in Oregon's K-12 schools, should accept her apparent willingness to write off their education. The years students have to grow and learn in the K-12 education system are fleeting. The window of opportunity for students to gain the tools, skills and confidence they need is limited. And the enormous difference that a quality education can make for kids from the poorest of families is an imperative that should guide our leaders to make the bravest of choices.
But Brown hasn't been that leader.
Buehler's willingness to address the growing $22 billion pension debt - which both candidates called a "crisis" - is another critical difference between the two. Education isn't the only area where pension costs are driving cuts. That painful math is playing out across 900 state agencies, local governments, public utilities and other public employers who will be paying $4 billion in contributions to the Public Employees Retirement System in 2019-2021, a 38 percent increase over the current biennium. The burden is already overwhelming. It's crushing if state economists' projections of a possible recession beginning in 2020 come true.
Buehler advocates pursuing employee contribution changes and salary limits that legislators had considered in 2017 - until Brown, Senate President Peter Courtney and House Speaker Tina Kotek pulled the plug, saying they would revisit such ideas later. In 2019. But even now, Brown is noncommittal about asking employees to contribute to the pension fund as they do in other states. Such changes, she has said, are akin to "balancing the budget on the backs" of employees.
Buehler faces tough odds to win in a state where registered Democrats handily outnumber Republicans, and in a year when Trump's policies and persona have turned a #NeverTrump attitude into a #NeverRepublican mantra. Commercials and social media campaigns by Brown's allies have tried to discredit his moderate stances and paint him as a Trump ally, even though he has openly criticized Trump many times. Oregonians shouldn't be distracted by such maneuvers and instead ask themselves what are the most pressing problems that our governor should address?
While Buehler gets some things wrong - his muddled response on repealing the state's sanctuary law, for example - he offers a brighter vision for what Oregon should be and how to get there. His approach, versus Brown's, reflects the leadership he would bring not just to education and pension reform, but funding health care, promoting housing development, and Oregon's many other needs.
Brown's commitment to public service, whether in or out of political office, is unquestionable. The first openly bisexual governor in the nation, Brown has been an inspiration to many who have been sidelined because of race, gender, sexual orientation or ethnicity. Her work as Oregon's secretary of state to create an automatic voter registration process broke new ground in helping increase voter participation. And when Kitzhaber's resignation amid a corruption probe in 2015 suddenly thrust her into the top job, she rose to the moment, displaying the poise and measured temperament needed to help shell-shocked Oregonians heal.
But in nearly four years as governor, Brown never owned the role. It's time for Oregonians to give it to someone who will.
- Helen Jung for The Oregonian/OregonLive Editorial Board
Editorials reflect the collective opinion of The Oregonian/OregonLive editorial board, which operates independently of the newsroom. Members of the editorial board are Laura Gunderson, Helen Jung, Therese Bottomly and John Maher.
Members of the board meet regularly to determine our institutional stance on issues of the day. We publish editorials when we believe our unique perspective can lend clarity and influence an upcoming decision of great public interest. Editorials are opinion pieces and therefore different from news articles. However, editorials are reported and written by either Laura Gunderson or Helen Jung.
Standard Disclaimer: The views and opinions of the author are not necessarily those of the Clackamas County Republican Party