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Time for Heavy Lifting by Gubernatorial Candidates

John A. Charles, Jr.
Time for Heavy Lifting by Gubernatorial Candidates

By John Charles

A day after their respective primary victories, John Kitzhaber and Chris Dudley celebrated by conducting photo-ops. Kitzhaber visited a Portland middle school and announced a plan to “create jobs and save energy” by weatherizing Oregon schools. Dudley visited a Boys & Girls Club and talked about his ability to “work with people.”

The voters deserve a lot more substance as we move on to the general election.

Kitzhaber has repeatedly said that his campaign will be focused on telling voters what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. But the weatherization proposal doesn’t pass that test. Caulking school windows is a nice thing to do but will not replace the need for new energy supplies, especially in the electricity sector. Nuclear power is illegal in Oregon, coal generation soon will be, and hydropower dams are being torn down. We’re steadily losing inexpensive power facilities with no real replacement options.

The notion that we can simply “conserve” our way out of the coming electricity shortage is absurd. Energy efficiency investments may lower the cost of energy use for specific users, but they don’t lead to reduced total energy consumption. They actually promote increased use because the cost per unit has dropped.

Dudley has yet to show that he’s thought through serious policy issues. He’s been content to ride his status as a former professional basketball player, while talking about his ability to get along with everyone. He’ll need to up his game if he wants to win the next round.

The state is facing massive long-term liabilities associated with public employee compensation, in the form of pensions and post-employment health insurance. Bringing people together and engaging in happy talk isn’t going to solve that problem because public employees have no incentive to change. Dudley is going to need fundamental, structural reforms for how the state carries out its core functions, including privatization and contracting-out.

Cascade can help both candidates formulate proposals, but the candidates themselves have to be interested in those ideas. Both are smart and went to Ivy League universities; I know they can do better than what they’ve shown so far.

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