Editorial: Want the job? Show up for the interview

I’ve always believed that cynicism is not a quality that contributes much to our political system because, in theory at least, change is always possible in a democratic republic.

But it’s hard not to be skeptical sometimes. Especially after the way things have been going the last few weeks. More on that in a minute.

This year we will get a new governor for the state of Oregon, or at least one different than Ted Kulongoski. If the citizens of Oregon feel so inclined, we could also stir things up in the Legislature.

Whether that happens will depend on how exercised we, the people, are. Are we tired of the back-room, good-old-boy shenanigans in Salem that have left us with an approximately $2 billion gap between the cost of the public services the state offers and what it can afford to pay thanks to politicians who haven’t stood up to powerful lobbying and union interests over the years?

How sick are we of public schools that, as a whole, are poorly operated and are controlled by the powerful teachers union that opposes calls for change such as Gov. Kulongoski’s recent “Reset” report? What about excessive compensation and benefits for our public employees that just about everybody except them agrees we can’t afford, partly because taxpayers have lost their jobs? What about our rising prison population? What about our roads? What about our energy policies? What about the increasingly lousy business climate here in the state?

Talk can be very cheap, and Oregon voters have to see it for what it is.

Well, all of the seats in the Oregon House, many of them occupied by the folks who have got us where we are, are up for grabs. And so are some Senate seats and the key to the governor’s office.

Focusing on the latter, initially I thought it could be an interesting race between former Gov. John Kitzhaber, a Democrat, and Republican Chris Dudley, the Yale-educated former Portland Trailblazer.

Kitzhaber was a medical doctor in Douglas County before getting into politics. I personally missed his previous two terms in the governor’s seat because I found it necessary to move to California to find employment and was living down there when he was elected. So I only know what I’ve read or heard.

The consensus seems to be that he didn’t play his cards very smart when he held some good ones, never effectively addressing the state’s funding problems, the glaring weaknesses in its educational system, its transportation challenges.

Dudley is a newcomer to politics. He has degrees in political science and economics, so we know he has intelligence. You don’t graduate from Yale, particularly in econ, if you don’t know how to use your brains.

Initially, I hoped Dudley might be a fresh face, a principled candidate with ideas that would really spell change, someone who could crack the whip on the education system, the public employees, who might be able to turn things around for business in this state, especially with help from the voters in November.

Unfortunately, though, he hasn’t done much so far to make me think he’s any different than the typical “be-whatever-you-have-to-be-to-win” type of politician.

I have to confess my opinion is colored by disappointment after Dudley skipped what has become the traditional opening volley of the race for governor in Oregon: the annual Oregon Newspaper Publisher’s Association conven-tion, held two weeks ago in Salem.

In recent decades the ONPA gathering has been of particular interest every four years to the state in general because it has become the traditional venue for the first debate of the Oregon governor’s race, the opening of the campaign season.

I was looking forward to it because I’m not betting that Dudley will show here in Sweet Home. Thus far, given what I’ve seen from other news sources and the numerous e-mails we get from Dudley’s campaign here at The New Era, his focus seems to be excessively on activities such as hobnobbing with the business elite and participating in carefully staged appearances.

Instead of seizing the opportunity to state his case and poke holes in Kitzahaber’s in front of the state’s print journalists, not all of whom are flaming liberals, by the way, Dudley backed out, claiming he was taking his family to Colorado for a vacation.

Unfortunately, the following week we learned that he actually had participated in meetings of the Republican Governor’s Association in Aspen, Colo., though he also engaged in some rafting and hiking with the family, we’re told.

This might sound like a lot of whining, but we’re a state in crisis and we are going to get a new leader. Many of those newspapers represent readers in the far corners of the state who may never get a chance to see Dudley in person. Dudley chose to walk away from people who want answers in a state that is in crisis so he could hang with the big shots on the national level.

He wants us to believe he’s the guy for the job. Problem is, when he had a prime chance to talk to people who were eager to hear why he should get the job, he didn’t show.

Maybe he’s smart. The business elite, by the way, have responded by donating nearly half a million dollars to Dudley’s campaign, which has raised a total of some $850,000 €“ three times the money Kitzhaber has been able to raise thus far.

I wonder, though, how many voters really care about Dudley’s TV commercials and round tables.

I and, I think, a lot of other Oregonians are looking for answers this time around, answers that will have to be backed by action from either Kitzhaber or Dudley.

Kitzhaber showed up at ONPA. He wasn’t visibly smacking his lips, but it was a golden opportunity for him.

Under some fairly pointed questioning, he acknowledged that he had not taken full advantage of all of his opportunities during his first eight years as governor. He said he thought he had particular problems communicating effectively.

He said if he were elected he will have to ask state employees to make more cutbacks, that the state needs to change its heavy reliance on personal income tax for revenue and that Oregon needs to move away from the biennial system of budgeting now in use. He said he believes he has the ability to bring people together, such as public employees and the business lobby, which, he said, will be vital to Oregon’s recovery. He said other things that really aren’t pertinent to this particular discussion.

He did, though, take one little shot at Dudley, which the Republican candidate may have caught on tape thanks to the video crew his campaign reportedly had there.

“Anyone asking to be governor has some obligations to candidly present proposals,” Kitzhaber said, adding that a candidate “should welcome those proposals to be examined and challenged in public forums like this.”

I really couldn’t agree more. Dudley wants us to give him a job. Not showing up for an employment interview is not the way to get hired.