Kitzhaber: Three-Time Governor Turning Oregon’s Tide

John Kitzhaber once called Oregon “ungovernable.” Now, he’s forging bipartisan alliances that are making it one of the best-governed states in the nation.

BY:  | MAY 2012

Oregon Democrats and Republicans were gridlocked. The Legislature had been in session for weeks but had passed onlyone piece of major legislation, a bill to implement a program it had approved one year earlier. Gov. John Kitzhaber, a Democrat, was demanding that Republicans enact a sweeping overhaul of the state education system. Democratic legislators also wanted foreclosure relief and legislation setting up a health exchange.

Republicans were balking. They supported the education package, but before they would give in to the Democrats’ other demands, they had a few of their own — more water from the Columbia River for agriculture, more enterprise zones and more timber harvests from state forests.

Neither side could force the other to act. The House was evenly divided, with Democratic and Republican co-speakers. In mid-February, Kitzhaber attempted to break the impasse on education reform by summoning business leaders and their representatives to a press conference at the Capitol. It didn’t work. No sooner had Kitzhaber begun his remarks than the House Republican leadership, led by Co-Speaker Bruce Hanna, marched into the room and lined up, glowering near the governor. When the governor offered a greeting, he got no response. Behind the scenes, Hanna had worked the phones to remind business constituencies who their “real” allies were in this fight.

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