Dear Governor Kulongoski,
Congratulations on a sound victory — not an outright thumping but
a good solid win. Fifty-one percent of Oregonians voted to return you
to office as leader of the state. Fifty-one percent of Oregonians decided
that they were on “your side.”
Your campaign was masterful at splitting the state into “sides.”
“You know whose side he’s on” was your campaign theme,
and it worked well.
We’re reasonably sure that doesn’t mean you’re not
on the side of 49 percent of Oregonians; we are confident that this was
just campaign sloganeering. But a clear thread ran through the campaign
that you were against big business, corporations and economic growth.
That couldn’t be true, though, because the state’s two largest
corporations, Intel and Nike, were in your back pocket.
The implication throughout the campaign was that you were on the side
of the little guy, the “children,” and the poor, unappreciated
public employees. And when you asked Oregonians to see themselves as either
haves or have-nots, they did. Not only did you clearly garner the have-not
vote, but you scooped up a decent number of the haves who find the status
quo pretty comfortable, at least for them.
But now it’s time to lead the state forward, and in order to do
that you will need to reunite the two sides you so effectively split.
It might be tempting to see 51 percent as a mandate and proceed with the
agenda of just “your side,” which would include shoring up
a broken PERS system to further benefit public employees, locking up even
more of the state’s abundant resources for your green supporters,
breaking up a fragile but successful charter school movement to appease
the teachers unions, and undermining Measure 37 to satisfy the urban yuppies.
But there are compelling reasons why this might not work as well as your
campaign slogan did.
First, 51 percent is not a mandate. It’s a nice win but not a mandate.
Second, there’s the historical perspective. Remember back to your
run for governor in 1982, when you lost by a substantial amount to Vic
Atiyeh. The state had been Republican red for all but six of the previous
48 years and stayed easily in the hands of the GOP candidate. After your
loss to Atiyeh, the statewide power structure looked as red as it looks
blue today. Frohnmayer was attorney general, Paulus was secretary of state,
Clay Myers was treasurer, and Packwood and Hatfield held the Senate seats
— Republicans all. Remember the feeling of that utter loss?
But then remember what happened next? You should know better than most
of us that pendulums swing, sometimes quickly and decisively. Most decisively
when the party in power entrenches itself instead of building bridges
to move the state forward in a united effort. (National Republicans know
a thing or two about that too.) After Atiyeh’s second term in office,
the governor’s mansion swung back to the Democrats where it has
stayed for 20 years, going on 24, twice as your official residence.
There’s another reason that the smart but cynical side-splitting
won’t work as a go-forward plan. The economics of the strategy will
When have-nots are encouraged to try to solve their financial woes by
picking away at the haves, the haves usually hide their wealth or flee
with their wealth.
And the biggest problem Oregon faces isn’t (or shouldn’t
be) a knock down drag-out between the haves and have-nots; the biggest
problem is the growing chasm in between. Oregon’s middle class is
disappearing. The “side” that needs urgent attention is not
the haves or have-nots but rather the disappearing middle.
The missing middle class is the reason that in the same state, on the
same newscasts, and in the same newspapers you will see statistics and
numbers that show Oregon failing miserably at the same time as it is succeeding
wildly. Life is good for some, and life is miserable for many, but for
almost no one is it steady and secure.
Working wage jobs are declining, housing is skyrocketing, and prices
are creeping up, all while average incomes are stagnating. That’s
what happens when business is stigmatized and corporations are demonized.
They flee. They don’t make less money; in fact often they make more.
The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
What happens when businesses and corporations are encouraged and treated
as important partners with the state? They build roots in their communities,
they grow and add opportunities, and they contribute philanthropically.
If Oregon’s wealth is seen as an unevenly distributed pie, there
are two choices: Try to redistribute it, or bake a bigger pie. Even during
the campaign many in the business community were talking about the need
to rebuild Oregon’s business image, to encourage business development
and growth, to bake a bigger pie. Business leaders know, political leaders
know, and you know that the only way to feed the state’s ravenous
budget appetite is a burgeoning business climate of growth.
You have a decision to make that will set your course for the next four
years. It will determine whether you leave a legacy of bitterness or a
legacy of optimism and accomplishments. Play pendulum politics —
pitting one side against the other, setting party against party, blaming
the haves for the condition of the have-nots, antagonizing the poor against
the well-to-do — or build a better business climate to grow healthier
revenues that can begin to support a new, financially secure middle class
The business community, some of whom were part of your campaign and others
who supported your opponent, all extend their congratulations and their
hands and hearts in support of a better Oregon. They heeded your recent
words about the work ahead, when you said, “Today’s revenue
forecast gives us a genuine opportunity to make Oregon a better place
to live, learn and raise a family, to pursue a career and grow a business,
to prosper in an ever-stronger economy and thrive in a healthy environment.”
Governor, let’s get to work, together.