Oregon Person of 2008: Ted Kulongoski

Ted Kulongoski

Ted Kulongoski

In many places around the country, and west of the Cascades more than most, “green” is all the rage. It’s not just the interest groups or the media, but businesses and governments – green is hot. But how much is this green heat generating real change in the way our communities function? And to what extent might it be just fad?

In 2008 Governor Ted Kulongoski set up a framework that could make green uncommonly central in Oregon, from the big picture down to the exercise of daily lives. While there’s a rap on him that he’s not one of the most charismatic of leaders, and while any number of critics expressed disappointment with him in his first term on environmental matters, what he seems to be setting into place could mark a genuinely big change in Oregon in the next few years.

This is, to be sure, speculative. But in 2008 Kulongoski merged with the trend and tides in greening the state’s economy, and was given the political advantages he would logically need to press forward. And almost many kinds of initiatives might be curtailed by weak tax revenues and a tough economy, this won’t necessarily fall to that: He has estimated state spending for his proposals at only about $10 million, a figure low enough to slip through. Atop that, he now has a strongly Democratic legislature – the house was only barely just last cycle – and a strongly cooperative congressional delegation for the federal level.

And, crucially, he has a cearl set of proposals that plug neatly into the economic moment.

An Oregonian story put it this way: “If the Legislature approves the plan, Oregon would become a national leader in renewable energy production, electric car use and ‘green’ building construction, he said. ‘How we live, how we move, how we work is going to change.'”

Items:

bullet Kulongoski’ apparently substantial negotiations with Nissan, which “also committed to work with the state and Portland General Electric to develop an electric vehicle-charging network. PGE has already installed six EV charging stations in the Portland area and Salem, with plans for six more.”

bullet Delete one tax credit, $1,500 for buying a hybrid car, and replacing it with a larger one – $5,000 for plug-in electric hybrids and all-electric cars.

bullet A string of energy-efficiency proposals.

bullet Expansion on incentives for solar energy use and production (Oregon has become the nations’ top solar-manufacturing state), and apparently for wind and wave as well. Substantial business development could emerge from that.

bullet The governor set in place plans to block new carbon-excessive power generation options.

bullet Energy certificates for home sales – a regulatory thing, yes, but also something that brings home to buyers the impact of what they’re doing, something they usually don’t know now.

bullet Substantial inducements to use public transit.

There’s been little real opposition to much of this so far, including from Republicans (whose statements so far seem to have concerned more differences in emphasis than outright disapproval).
In the last couple of years of his governorship, Kulongoski may be poised to shift the state in some surprising and significant ways. Certainly no other Northwest politician in 2008 developed, promoted and positioned for passage such an ambitious agenda.

Honorable Mentions: Some of the others we considered . . .

Jeff Merkley. The senator-elect had a long, hard uphill slog that was by no means a lock all the way to the end. He had a tough primary contest, and the general battle against two-term Republican incumbent Gordon Smith was a rugged slugfest. Rewind to the common chatter of a year ago, when Merkley’s primary against Steve Novick was close and tough (and, the national wizards often said, Merkley just didn’t seem to be catching on). And remember too how Smith was thought to be favored in the race, by a wide range of observers, up until late summer or so. Merkley’s win deprives Oregon Republicans of any statewide elected post, a truly stunning comedown, the lowest point for the party in many decades.

Phil Knight. Simply, some of those gifts have been enormous, and impact will be big. Maybe the biggest impact, though, will come not at the traditional collegiate athletics facilities but rather than massive $100 million donation to Oregon Health Sciences University, which could make the Oregon institution a world leader in some areas of health research. On a smaller scale, there’s Beaverton politics – and don’t dismiss it, this is a key growth area – to consider as well.

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