Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The return of John Kitzhaber

Who says there are no second acts in politics?

Last week, John Kitzhaber, Oregon's governor from 1995 through 2003, announced that he will run for a record-setting third term in 2010.

John Kitzhaber is certainly an impressive individual: a surgeon, a capable politician, and a rugged outdoorsman in that uniquely Oregonian way. During his two terms in office, Kitzhaber faced a state legislature controlled by Republicans, but still managed to accomplish much, including the expansion of the Oregon Health Plan and the institution of the Oregon Plan for Salmon and Watersheds. Kitzhaber showed particular courage in his championing of the latter by advocating the breach of dams to help salmon restoration.

Ever since he left the State House, speculation about his political career has peaked from time to time. Many Oregon Democrats were hoping that he would run for the US Senate seat held by Gordon Smith, but Kitzhaber wouldn't play ball on that score. There was also a brief buzz that he might be the Obama administration's choice for Secretary of Health and Human Services after Tom Daschle's flame-out late last year. Kitzhaber shot that one down, too.

But, at last, the former governor has revealed his hand.

A visit to his new web site reveals that Governor Kitzhaber is preparing a campaign that echoes the message that President Obama successfully employed last year: post-partisanship, a need to work together, a willingness to address tough issues. But unlike the President, Kitzhaber has got the resumé to back up the rhetoric. And one must imagine that, given that the Oregon state legislature is currently (albeit tenuously) controlled by the Democrats, Governor Kitzhaber is looking forward to an ambitious third term.

Oregon's constitution prohibits anyone from seeking a third consecutive term as governor, but places no restrictions beyond that. Oregon's revered Governor Tom McCall sought a third term in 1978, but lost the Republican primary to Vic Atiyeh. This time around, Governor Kitzhaber must surely be considered the early favorite. He has huge name recognition, obviously, and he was very popular at the conclusion of his second term.

I always liked Governor Kitzhaber. He is smart, capable, and tough. So, for the time being, he has my support. But, of course, I reserve the right to change my mind as the race develops further.

Let's see what happens.

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