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Fourth time around

oregon
RANDY STAPILUS / Oregon

Governor John Kitzhaber really is an unusual, and major, figure in Oregon history, a point just underlined if he’s re-elected to the fourth term he announced on Monday he would seek.

As matters sit, he’s a strong favorite. The leading Republican contender (and odds are, even if Allen Alley gets into it next year this will still be true), state Representative Dennis Richardson, will function most as a clearly-spoken exemplar of his state’s brand of conservative Republicanism, but not as a candidate likely to reach much outside that sector.

Kitzhaber broke records in 2010, of course, when he was elected to a third term as governor, the first Oregonian to do that. There was some speculation about whether Oregonians would go along with that, but also some real question marks about whether the man known in his first two terms as “Doctor No” and who famously said that Oregon was ungovernable, could accomplish much if given the reins again. In his campaign, Kitzhaber laid out an agenda both specific and highly ambitious, and you have to wonder if even he thought he would be able to accomplish more than a piece of it.

He seemed to be suggesting in the campaign, though, that eight years out of office, with time for reflection, gave him some new perspective on the job, that he now had a better sense of how do it, how to be governor and get things done. Upon his return, at least, he demonstrated exactly that, changing his approach and roaring through his 2010 agenda, checking off major item after major item, sweeping developments on education, health care, energy and other areas. Probably not many governors nationally in recent years have had so consequential a term. And his change of approach was startling, too; he has been about as hands-on with the legislature as a governor could be without turning overbearing, and building good relations on the way. At times, you saw more positive quotes about him from Republicans than from Democrats (and a fair amount of Democratic snark accompanied his announcement), but those Democrats seem to be forgetting how much of the Oregon Democratic agenda he has been pushing forward.

Kitzhaber’s fourth-term announcement is almost more by way of following up, getting those third-term accomplishment locked in, than anything else. But that’s no small thing. Not only time in office has made him consequential in the larger Oregon picture, and that would be true even if you only look at his third term. Not to mention a fourth.

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