Endorsement: Bring back divided government with Buehler
Editor's note: This endorsement is part of a series of editorials in advance of the Nov. 6, 2018, general election. Also in this Oct. 17, 2018, issue, our editorial board endorses Ron Noble for House District 24, Rich Vial for House District 26, Susan McLain for House District 29, Janeen Sollman for House District 30, Brad Witt for House District 31, Tiffiny Mitchell for House District 32, Alexander Flores for Senate District 15 and Betsy Johnson for Senate District 16.
Our endorsement editorials in the previous issue on Oct. 10, 2018, recommended voters elect Tom Johnston, Malynda Wenzl and Devon Downeysmith for Forest Grove City Council; Luis Hernandez and John Colgan for Cornelius City Council; and Beach Pace, Kyle Allen and Olivia Alcaire for Hillsboro City Council.
Our Oct. 3, 2018, endorsement editorials recommended voters elect Kathryn Harrington as Washington County Board of Commissioners chairwoman and approve Ballot Measure 26-199.
Our Sept. 26, 2018, endorsement editorial recommended voters reject Ballot Measures 103 and 104. Our Sept. 19, 2018, endorsement editorial recommended voters reject Ballot Measure 105. Our Sept. 12, 2018, endorsement editorial recommended voters approve Ballot Measure 102.
In an era when political campaigns are designed to polarize voters, it may seem odd — but our endorsement in the governor's race is based on a belief that Oregon needs more conflict.
We're not talking about gridlock, and we're not talking about partisanship. Rather, if we have any hope of making a breakthrough on the longstanding issues facing Oregon, the state government needs more of the creative tension that comes from opposing sides having to listen, compromise and work toward solutions.
With one party in control of the two legislative chambers and the governor's office, the state's leaders haven't been challenged strongly enough to find a different — and, admittedly, difficult — path on matters such as healthcare costs, educational improvement, tax reform and the unfunded liability for the Public Employees Retirement System.
Democrats have held the governor's office for 31 years, and they have maintained control of both the House and the Senate for most of the past decade. During that time, they've attempted bold experiments — including a much-heralded healthcare reform that's been only moderately successful. They've taken stabs at PERS reforms, only to be thwarted by the courts. But overall, Oregon hasn't moved forward on what should have been more urgent priorities during the recent reign of the Democratic Party.
The state's classrooms are overcrowded and its educational outcomes are subpar, in part because of the money that must be diverted to cover rapidly escalating PERS costs. Oregon's tax system is still perched upon the wobbly two legs of overly high income and property taxes. Healthcare expenses could become overwhelming. And the state's population remains divided between the prosperous urban and suburban areas versus struggling rural communities that once depended on a natural resource economy to sustain them.
A lack of progress on these nagging issues probably explains why Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, isn't overwhelmingly popular, despite her state's blue leanings.
Brown is an admirable person who deserves credit for a number of accomplishments while in office. She took office under tough circumstances, after former Gov. John Kitzhaber resigned facing mounting allegations that he misused his office to help his fiancee's business prospects. Brown made the transition from serving as secretary of state smoothly, helping restore trust in the governor's office. Among other things, Brown has led efforts to reduce disparities in Oregon's criminal justice system, pushed the law to keep guns away from domestic violence offenders, and averted a nasty ballot measure fight over the minimum wage by negotiating a compromise between business and labor. Of particular importance to fast-growing Washington County, she presided over the passage of a long-overdue transportation package last year, one that took considerable compromise from all sides to get through the Legislature.
But we believe Oregon voters should elect Republican Rep. Knute Buehler as the next governor. Buehler has the potential to break the one-party inertia in Salem and use the natural tension that would arise from divided government to move forward on difficult issues.
It's not just wishful thinking to believe that having a Republican governor to balance against a Democratic-controlled Legislature can bring real progress. Oregon voters only need to look back to the 2011 legislative session — when the Oregon House was divided 30-30 between Democrats and Republicans. Legislators of both parties point to that session as one of the most productive, a theme we heard several times while conducting endorsement interviews with legislative candidates this fall. Nothing moved forward in the House in that session unless it had support from both sides, which means true compromise had to occur.
Similarly, we believe a Republican governor can force the Legislature (which is almost certain to have strong Democratic majorities) to compromise when necessary and to act on topics like PERS even when it doesn't want to.
Despite our preference for divided government, we wouldn't recommend Buehler if he were a fiery far-right candidate. But he is not. Buehler, a Bend physician and current legislator, fits comfortably into the tradition of moderate Oregon Republicanism. He's cut from the same mold as former gubernatorial candidates Norma Paulus and Dave Frohnmayer. He supports a woman's right to choose and is moderate to liberal on most social issues.
Buehler displays an impressive grasp of policy, particularly when it comes to the all-important issue of healthcare. At times, he sounds more like Kitzhaber, also a policy wonk, than he does a typical Republican.
The 2018 gubernatorial election in Oregon ought to be about fixing intractable public problems that have plagued the state for decades. Some people will want to view it, instead, as a referendum on Donald Trump or Brett Kavanaugh. That's understandable, given the partisan passions of the moment. And Brown, for all her faults, doesn't deserve all the criticism that she gets from some quarters — she has recorded some real and appreciable accomplishments in her nearly four years as governor.
Yet voters should consider that divided government is good at both the federal and the state level. If the Democrats take control of the U.S. House of Representatives in this election, they will place a valuable check on Trump. Likewise, if Oregon's voters put Buehler in office, they will change the dynamics in Salem and force a real discussion about the state's most important concerns.
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