By editorial board • 

Oregonians yearn for leaders who stir souls

In the inaugural address Monday, Gov. Kate Brown invoked the memory of Tom McCall in her opening and Mark Hatfield in her closing.

That’s fitting, as the two former governors, both Republicans, displayed the vision, leadership, resolve and grit to cut across the grain of deeply rooted party doctrine. It earned them iconic status that still resonates with Oregonians decades after their passing from the main stage.

In the almost two years since she assumed her role, Brown has displayed few of the traits that produced such lasting plaudits for her distinguished predecessors. She could have used her inaugural to lay out a bold new course, but settled instead for more of the same — a cautious menu of incremental improvements, all settling comfortably into the confines of Democratic dogma.

Where she did venture to the edge of perilous political ground, Brown hewed more to the high-minded than the prescriptive.

She called for legislation to ensure “a fair and balanced tax system” producing “stable and adequate funding.” She urged addressing Oregon’s $22 billion PERS liability “in a way that keeps our promises to retirees” without triggering “an endless hamster wheel of litigation.” However, she offered no hint how either might be accomplished.

She took note of the desperately depressed economy of rural Oregon, but not its root cause — resource industries ravaged in the name of conservation by the party in power, her party. Her palliative was limited to upgrading Eastern Oregon’s Highway 97 transportation lifeline and Coastal Oregon’s hundred-odd imperiled bridges — a half-measure at best. What’s more, both would require a tax hike dependent on support from Republican lawmakers alienated and marginalized at every turn last session.

To retain her grip on the state’s helm, Brown has to run for re-election again in two years. And moderate Central Oregon Republican Knute Buehler is already preparing up for the race.

If that’s making Brown cautious, afraid to make a damaging misstep or alienate an important supporter, we think she’s misreading history. McCall and Hatfield earned broad bipartisan support not by treading well-worn paths, but by showing the courage to blaze new trails.

Voters are yearning for inspiration, creativity and vision, for out-of-the-box ways of thinking and working. They would relish seeing some spark ignite in Brown.
Oregon cries for sane and sensible tax reform. A bigger corporate tax is an essential element, but it should little resemble the clumsy, outsized, ill-formed and unfair Measure 97 so soundly rejected at the polls in November. It also cries for serious PERS reform, comprehensive transportation investment, renewed focus on other infrastructure needs, reversal of years of higher ed disinvestment, and rejuvenation of rural Oregon’s ravaged manufacturing and resource-extraction base.

Any meaningful ventures in that vein will demand Republican support. Winning it will require withstanding backlash from longstanding allies in labor and environmental circles.

We doubt Brown has the mettle, but would love to be proven wrong.

Comments

RobH

I agree it would be nice to see some more boldness from the governor. I'd also like to see something from the editorial board besides "more of the same" and "settling comfortably into the confines" of moderate Republican dogma. How about recognizing that rural economics is a complicated topic with neither simple causes nor easy solutions? How about admitting that politics are so divisive that to say voters yearn for something is never more than half right?

Times have changed since McCall and Hatfield, and hoping for a return of the good old days will continue to lead to disappointment. If Oregon has leaders like that today they avoid elected office for good reasons.

Don Dix

Kate Brown is simply a 'one-trick pony'. She uses popular Rs to gain attention, and then returns to the tax and spend D she has always been. And please notice she has no plan or solution for anything -- unless it involves raising taxes.

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