Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Oregon election shows governor has work to do

While Ted Kulongoski has won a second term as governor of Oregon, voters have sent him a strong message: he has a lot of work still to be done to gain the respect of rural Oregon and particularly of the farm and ranch community.

Unofficially, Kulongoski received just under 51 percent of the votes in this week's election. Republican Ron Saxton received 43 percent. As expected, Saxton did best in the rural areas, as well as the eastern and southern parts of the state. Kulongoski won Portland, the place Saxton needed to crack if he wished to be a serious contender.

Considering how poorly Republicans did nationally, in both the House and Senate, and how Oregon has been more traditionally a Democrat stronghold, Kulongoski should find it sobering that almost half of the state's voters would rather have someone else lead them.

Nationally, polls before yesterday showed that three out of four voters were leaning towards Democrats because of disgust against corruption and scandals involving politicians, and in particular Republicans. There were also great discontent about the Iraq war.

In that context, Kulongoski's win shows it is even more shaky. Getting just over 50 percent of the votes does not show the state's voters are confident in his leadership. The votes may have emerged because of fear of what might happen if Saxton won, especially with some of the comments he has made about the employment of state workers and how he wanted to continue to attack their retirement plan.

So what should Kulongoski do during a second term if he wants to create a legacy or at the very least earn some respect from farmers and ranchers?

First, keeping director Katy Coba in her job in the agriculture department would be admirable. She has done an impressive job of representing the interests of agriculture at the state, national and international levels.

Secondly, Kulongoski should immediately arrange to start meeting more with the agricultural organizations and their representatives in this state. Instead of waiting for a big issues to hit the wall and be forced to react or veto what he doesn't like, Kulongoski should do more to understand and work with the agricultural and rural communities. Learn more about the issues, seek common ground and resolutions, and more importantly show respect for those people who toil the land.

Kulongoski needs to be more than just more visible to rural areas, but actually show he listens and can be influenced by those he meets.

Thirdly, Kulongoski needs to show leadership. This includes working with other politicians on both sides of politics. Kulongoski needs to find the solution so appointments can be made to commissions and boards; influence the government to work towards solutions; and move the state ahead to where it needs to be in the future, as a progressive, viable, dynamic place to live and do business. Kulongoski should meet with the small business association and see what can be done to encourage and support the growth of that sector.

Fourthly, the universities and education system are relying heavily on Kulongoski to deliver on promises he has made in recent months. They will watch the next state budget closely to see whether he truly believes Oregon State University and others should continue to have the resources and support they need.

And finally, Kulongoski needs to work to restore the faith of voters in politics here in the West. Under Kulongoski, the agricultural community has become very disillusioned with him and the Democrats. They have felt more than just a power vacuum in Salem: they have felt ignored, frustrated, and forgotten.

If Kulongoski feels the election gave him a mandate to continue doing what he has in the last four years, then he didn't deserve to win.

If he uses the election as a wake-up call and lesson on how to do things better, and makes an honest attempt to work harder with the agricultural community, then there is hope for the future.


Anonymous said...

Actually, Oregon is not really a Blue state. Portland is a Blue city...

The rest of Oregon, even including once famous liberal stronghold Eugene, is pretty Red.

It has been this way for a long time. There was a pretty good article in WWeek about it a few months ago.

But since elections are decided by votes, and votes are given to PEOPLE and not SQUARE MILES - that means that cities always decide close elections.

If a cantidate wants to impress on all those voters in the city that rural issues do matter to them - they need to do it up front and loudly.

People in the city need food and water and other things which come from rural areas. That is important.

But equally as important is that people in the city do not want to be forced to live like people in rural areas.

So it would behoove the rural cantidates to not push issues that urban voters don't want if those cantidates want to gain the urban vote.

Sure, maybe people in Harney county are not fond of gay people. Fine... But there are more gay residents in Portland than their are people in Harney county...

So if you want to get a cantidate who has policies favorable to rural issues like farming and whatnot - stop being anti-gay and anti-woman and anti-environment at a statewide level.

It is all in the numbers folks... 80% of 1 million is a lot more than 100% of 500,000...

Gary L. West said...

You read our revised editorial didn't you? Some of the arguments made in the comment added to this post actually were reflected in the revised editorial that appears in the Nov. 10 Capital Press. And that editorial was also posted here a couple of hours before the anonymous comment was left in this post.

I appreciate the comment. It got me thinking about some other things too. But that's probably a topic for a post or two, not a comment.

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