Ted Kulongoski is currently the governor of the state of Oregon, having been elected to that position in the 2002 General Election. Before being governor, he had many other government positions in Oregon. He is a centrist Democrat with long standing ties to labor organizations.
Ted Kulongoski was born in 1940 in St. Louis, Missouri, joined the marine corps as a young man, and after serving, used the GI Bill to study law. While practicing law, he served in the Oregon legislature, was appointed insurance commissioner, was elected Attorney General, and was later elected to be the Chief Justice of the Oregon Supreme Court. In 2002, after Dr. John Kitzhaber, MD was done serving his two terms, Kulongoski gained the Democratic Party nomination for governor, and won the election in 2002.
Having finished this brief factual biography of Governor Kulongoski, I will indulge in some political analysis and guessing about his current state and future prospects. For several reasons, there has been speculation that Kulongoski may not choose to run again for governor in 2006, despite the fact that his term has proceeded on a fairly even keel so far, with the major problem being funding shortfalls caused by the economic downturn of the last few years.
There are several reasons for this, with various levels of substance behind them. One of the major ones is that Oregon, like the United States has a whole, has a "red and blue" dichotomy, that no matter how hyped, is a real issue. There was an urban legend that Kulongoski has only carried the vote in one county, the populous, liberal, urban Multnomah County, and had lost the election in every other county in Oregon, earning him the nickname "Governor of Multnomah County". During my research for this node, I discovered this was not quite true, but it is true that Kulongoski's support comes from the Portland area, and a few liberal college towns around the state, and that as a democrat, he does not have a lot of appeal to many rural, conservative voters.
Although Kulongoski himself has had no scandals, he has been tainted by the fact that a former powerful Democratic governor of Oregon, Neil Goldschmidt was revealed to have had sexual contact with a 14 year old girl, thirty years previously. After this revelation, more light was cast on Goldschmidt's business dealings, a nest of cronyism on the corporate and government levels that have included dozens of Goldschmidt's political friends. Although Kulongoski has never been accused of wrongdoing, he was a protege of Goldschmidt, and the association has been enough to hurt his reputation.
While Kulongoski's Democratic party affiliation is enough to cause antipathy for many of the state's conservative voters, it is not enough to impress the many leftists in Portland and Eugene who see the Democratic party as being corrupted by corporate influence and inbreeding. Kulongoski doesn't have the charisma and attitude to energize the political base that is important in a campaign. Again, this is not without reason, since Kulongoski doesn't seem ready to address some of the greater political issues that face Portland's future.
Along with these things, there is the fact that while Kulongoski is a very educated, intelligent man, and has served many different roles in many different parts of Oregon's government; that does not always make you a succesful politician for the top executive position. Being a good insurance commissioner does not mean you can inspire people as governor. The former governor, Kitzhaber, was also a somewhat quiet presence, but for whatever reason, he still managed to make himself be felt. Kulongoski gets much less press and recognition then other figures in Oregon politics, such as the mayor of Portland, Tom Potter.
All of these are reasons that Ted Kulongoski, a very nice, intelligent man (I have met him on two occasions), with a working class background, a military record, and wide experience in Oregon's government, may not be able to run for a second term. To forge a political base in Oregon is hard at the current time, as you are torn between wildly different political cultures, and it would need a very creative personality to do so. Governor Kulongoski's term in office, while not particularly bad, does not have the spark that is needed right now. The most memorable part of his governorship so far has been a scandal that has, however unfairly, touched upon him.
However, we may have to wait until next year to see how things go. since politics are as hard to predict as the weather.
- the 2002 election returns, by county
Governor Kulongoski's official biography