Once known as “Dr. No” for the record number of bills passed by the Republican legislature he vetoed, Kitzhaber’s third term has been marked by a level of comity with a Democratic majority. Earlier this year, Kitzhaber shepherded a major package of tax reforms, aimed at funding the state’s education budget, aided by a bipartisan majority in the legislature.
“I didn’t do a very good job [in his first two terms] because I think I approached this from the wrong lens, and I don’t think I used the bully pulpit the way I should have,” Kitzhaber said in an interview in October in Portland. “I don’t think I had developed the depth of relationships that I had before. I tried to be a super-legislator my first eight years.”
Kitzhaber said Monday he would focus his campaign on education, implementation of health care reform, reducing the state’s carbon output and creating new middle class jobs. Health care reform could prove a headache for the Democrat, who spearheaded the charge for a state-run portal that has been beset by technical problems.
The Cover Oregon Web site has enrolled just 8,300 people after a rocky rollout stymied residents eager to sign up. Last week, Cover Oregon’s executive director, who had been under fire for the glitches, said he would take a leave of absence for medical reasons.
And though Kitzhaber didn’t say so at his news conference Monday, his reelection bid is also likely to be driven by tax reform, and Kitzhaber’s hopes of implementing a statewide sales tax. Kitzhaber told The Washington Post that any tax package would likely have to face voter ratification; given that sales taxes have failed at the ballot box nine times before, Kitzhaber said he would spearhead a modern campaign to convince voters to overhaul the tax code.
“The real issue with tax reform is, yes, it’ll have to go on the ballot or it will get on the ballot, but that should be okay,” Kitzhaber said. “You have to convince people, bring them to see that this is really in the common interest. That makes the hill steeper, but the outcome more robust and enduring.”
So far, no big-name Republican has stepped forward to make the case against Kitzhaber. State Rep. Dennis Richardson (R) and rancher Jon Justesen (R) have both said they will challenge the incumbent Democrat, and former state Republican Party chairman Allen Alley is also contemplating a bid.
Oregon hasn’t elected a Republican governor since 1982, the second-longest streak of continuous Democratic control in the country. Only Washington State has gone longer without electing a Republican. If Kitzhaber wins and serves for a full 16 years, he would be tied with California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) — assuming Brown, too, wins reelection — as the fourth-longest-serving governors in American history, according to the University of Minnesota’s Smart Politics blog.
See Kitzhaber’s re-election announcement video here: