The usually sharp Oregonian columnist David Sarasohn seemed a bit scattered in today's post-Kitzhaber-announcement column. Could the reasons have to do just partly with the nature of Kitzhaber and more with the nature of politics?
Kitzhaber had for the last three months or so held out the possiblity of running for governor. He was considering it, he said, as a way of promoting his health care plan for Oregon, which he may turn into a ballot issue. Put over-simply, it appears to contemplate taking the billons Oregonians now pour into the health care and reshuffle its use in more efficient ways - an appealing prospect if politically a tough proposition.
One suspects Kitzhaber knew all along that a governor's race would be a lousy way to do that, and dangled the possibility of a race to draw attention.
Sarasohn's column (no link available yet) seemed to want to suggest Kitzhaber was rejecting politics as a means to his end. The columnist pointed out that after all, Kitzhaber was able to push the Oregon Health Plan ahead while he was a leader in the state Senate and while he was governor.
But Kitzhaber apparently never has said that the effort ahead would be apolitical, only that seeking political office doesn't seem to be the best way to get this job done. Sarasohn edged toward suggesting that was wrongheaded, and a rejection of the political process. He stopped short, though, because saying that would raise a problem: The implication that the only meaningful participants in our political process are those with important-sounding titles in front of their names.
Ask a Washingtonian which single person in the last decade (or, hell, make it two) has had the biggest impact on policy in that state, and the likely poll winner would be Tim Eyman - a private citizen, never elected to anything, a pusher of initiatives: A man whose influence many decry as negative, but whose policy impact has been nonetheless enormous. Oregon has had its counterparts, and Kitzhaber may be displaying shrewd political sense if his thought is to marry his political cachet and charisma to the power than can come from playing the role of a populist outsider. Which he likely could do to Oscar caliber.
With the right issue, the right approach and the right support, you don't even need to be a Kitzhaber to have political impact. That may be, in the end, what Kitzhaber has come to realize.