The Oregon governor's race will be decided in the Portland metropolitan area. If John Kitzhaber receives anything close to the level of support Democrats usually enjoy from Oregon's largest population center, he will win easily. The problem, for now, is that former NBA backup center and "wealth manager" (whatever that means) Chris Dudley is polling better in the Portland area than do most Republicans.
Oregon's unemployment rate is higher than the national average. People are restless and looking for change, and Democrats have held the Oregon statehouse for a long time. And a lot of people don't seem to remember how much they enjoyed Kitzhaber's previous tenure as governor, when he was the most popular politician in the state, despite having to fight a hard right Republican legislature. They don't seem to remember the employment boom when he was governor. They don't seem to remember that even before he was governor, the emergency-room-doctor-turned-state-senator created the Oregon Health Plan, without which many Oregonians would not have been able to get insured.
If the Kitzhaber campaign is looking for a knockout blow in this deadlocked race, they need to find something that will appeal to people in Portland and its suburbs and exurbs, something that isn't abstract and wonky. When Dudley finally showed up to debate Kitzhaber last week, he proved once again that he has but the most superficial understanding of policy. Kitzhaber once again proved that he can discuss the most intricate details of policy. But political knockout blows don't usually come from detailed policy analysis. Kitzhaber needs something that touches people emotionally, viscerally. Something about which liberal Portlanders are passionate and even many moderate and conservative Portlanders care deeply. Something like the environment.
Many Portlanders love the outdoors. Many escape west to the coast, east to the Gorge or the Cascades, or south to the Willamette Valley whenever they can. And it is almost impossible to drive in any of those directions without encountering the visual blight of clear-cutting. Along backroads, it's even worse. Even from some of Oregon's most popular beaches, the view has been sullied by deforestation. There are even proposals to deforest right up to the edge of Oregon's only national park. Portlanders care a lot about deforestation.
Chris Dudley has no roots in Oregon, although he did apparently live in Portland for much of the time he listed his official residence as across the river in Washington, where he could avoid paying income taxes. It's no surprise that he has no passion for protecting Oregon. He recently received yet another $50,000 from just one lumber company, raising that single company's total contribution to his campaign to nearly a quarter million dollars. Dudley apparently cares more about managing the wealth of the timber industry than about protecting what's left of Oregon's forests:
Among many political activists, the environment remains a hot political issue. Dudley has successfully tapped the timber and agricultural industries for support as he sympathizes with their plight.
Paulette Pyle, a natural resource and pesticide lobbyist who works closely with Dudley's campaign, said that became clear the first time she met Dudley and asked him what he knew about the state's farms and forests.
"He said, 'What I do know is that they have been underutilized over the years and that I believe that is why Oregon has had economic difficulties,'" Pyle related.
To Dudley, "utilizing" forests apparently means cutting them down. As he told The Oregonian's Jeff Mapes:
Oregon’s six large state forests are an underutilized state asset that should be a greater source of jobs and revenue for the state.
According to the state Department of Forestry, improving the management of the 93,000 acre Eliot State Forest, alone, could create at least 150 new jobs and more revenue for the Common School Fund.
A total of 150 jobs for 93,000 acres? To Dudley, "improving the management" apparently means allowing timber firms to manage their wealth by destroying state-owned wilderness. Dudley blathers about the need for using sound science, but given that only some 3 percent of the Pacific Northwest's Old Growth forests remain, the science has been pretty clear for some time. And if Dudley really cares about school funding, perhaps he shouldn't be proposing to manage the wealth of wealthy people like himself by cutting their taxes.
If the Kitzhaber campaign wants a short, simple ad that will fire up the key constituency that will decide his race, here it is: aerial shots of clear cut devastation, with a voice-over soundtrack recounting Dudley's comments about deforestation. If people in and around Portland understood that Dudley thinks of forests as but an underutilized asset, it could effectively end the race.