PORTLAND — Gov. John Kitzhaber was once known as Dr. No for vetoing Republican legislation. Now the Democrat says he’s running for re-election with a record and leadership style he describes as centrist.
Kitzhaber officially announced his candidacy Monday at a Portland school library. Children who had yet to be born during the governor’s first eight years in office sat quietly as he reviewed his efforts to overhaul health care, streamline public education and get the economy going while reciting his priorities for a hoped-for “final term.”
The 66-year-old former emergency room doctor was elected governor twice in the 1990s. He was barred by term limits from running in 2002, but made a political comeback and won an unprecedented third term in November 2010. He would not be able to seek re-election in 2018.
Oregon, according to Kitzhaber, was a “polarized” state standing in the depths of the Great Recession when he returned to the job in January 2011. He said restoring civility and rebuilding the political center have been at the heart of his administration’s third-term accomplishments, which include a falling unemployment rate and an improved credit rating.
“While partisanship and ideology are paralyzing our nation’s capital, here over the past three years in Oregon we have shown time and time again it is possible to work together,” he said.
Republicans Dennis Richardson, a state representative from Central Point, and Jon Justesen, a rancher from Eastern Oregon, have announced plans to challenge him in 2014.
Kitzhaber’s agenda for a fourth term includes increasing money for education, implementing health care reform and creating jobs that pay well.
“The great challenge before us is to ensure that the next phase of Oregon’s economic recovery reaches all Oregonians and ends the income stagnation that continues to erode the middle class,” he said.
Kitzhaber acknowledged that Republicans will use the rough debut of Cover Oregon — the state’s health care exchange — against him in the campaign. He said it’s important to remember that the balky website is not the exchange, but “I’m certainly willing to take a few slings and arrows for the rocky rollout.”
Regardless of his opponent, the governor will be favored to the win in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans. No Republican has won a statewide race in Oregon since 2002, and it’s been 30 years since a Republican was elected governor.
By the end of October, Kitzhaber’s campaign had already reported contributions of nearly $232,000 in 2013. He matched the amount he raised in all of 2012 by this Oct. 30.
Nike and Comcast have each contributed $10,000 to the Democrat’s campaign. He’s received 12 other contributions of at least $5,000, including from Portland General Electric employees, PacifiCorp and several attorneys and business executives.
He has nearly $140,000 in the bank, according to campaign finance disclosures to the state of Oregon.
Richardson has raised $135,000, including $20,000 from Stimson Lumber, and Justesen has collected $40,