Posted: Thursday, October 28, 2010 10:00 AM
Proud residents of California and Oregon would be loath to admit it, but there are close similarities between the states -- at least when it comes to this year's gubernatorial politics.
Both states face tremendous budget deficits, have high unemployment and have urban and rural electorates that are sharply divided on the issues. In each state voters have the choice of either a liberal Democratic two-term former governor with extensive government experience or a neophyte Republican who has only private-sector experience.
In California, Jerry Brown began his political career in 1969 as a member of the Los Angeles Community College board of trustees, and was elected secretary of state the next year. He was first elected governor in 1974, and served eight years. He has since served as mayor of Oakland and is currently attorney general. He ran unsuccessfully for president three times and for the Senate once.
He faces Republican Meg Whitman, a Princeton and Harvard-trained executive who has served in various capacities with Disney, FTD and Hasbro. She was CEO of online auction site eBay from 1997 to 2008, taking the company from a small startup with $4 million in annual revenues to a dotcom behemoth with revenues of more than $8 billion.
In Oregon, John Kitzhaber was an emergency room doctor when he was elected to the state House of Representatives in 1978. He was elected to the state Senate in 1980, and served as Senate president from 1985 to 1993. In 1994 he beat then Gov. Barbara Roberts for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. Elected twice, he was barred by state law from seeking a third consecutive term in 2002.
His opponent is former NBA center Chris Dudley, who in 16 years played 886 games with five teams, retiring in 2003. Dudley has since worked as a wealth management adviser.
California and Oregon face tough problems. Their economies are in shambles and state finances are teetering at the brink. Normally, we think it's best to trust experience. Not this time.
We support Whitman and Dudley. We have seen newcomers transform state politics before -- Ronald Reagan in California, Mitt Romney in Massachusetts, and most recently Chris Christie in New Jersey. Both California and Oregon are in great need of transformation, and we don't see either former governor providing the necessary leadership.
Brown and Kitzhaber had some successes during their tenures, but they left systemic problems unaddressed and backed policies that continue to hamper the economies of their states.
While they weren't the primary architect of their respective state's current problems, they were sub-contractors on the job.
Brown's enduring legacy is legislation that allowed the state's public employees to unionize, which in turn has led to bloated payroll and benefit costs that are bankrupting the state and its municipalities. He greatly increased environmental regulations while governor, and as mayor of Oakland championed the taking of private property for the benefit of favored private development.
Kitzhaber had good, but ill-executed, plans for extending health care benefits to poor Oregonians and reforming education finance. But he never proposed bold reforms for the state's public employee pension system or the tax structure. He famously termed the state "ungovernable" late in his last term.
Both men face the daunting challenge of reforming public payroll and pension systems, exacting concessions from the very unions that are bankrolling their campaigns.
Brown and Kitzhaber say they have learned from their previous mistakes, and would now be better governors. Considering the hubris that too often attends public figures, we think that demonstrates the sincere character of both men. But California and Oregon would be in far better shape had they been better governors in the first place.