Writings and observations

A different SOS

idaho RANDY

State of the State addresses, in almost any state, usually follow a standard pattern. They start by recounting some of the challenges and advances faced by the jurisdiction, move on through one topic area after another, often somewhere around a half dozen, offering suggestions here and there, and wrapping up with a story or a few lines meant to be uplifting.

The SOS speeches in Washington and Idaho followed the usual pattern.

Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber’s combination inaugural-state of the state (much of which appears later in this edition), did not. Except for the last uplifting piece, it threw out the template entirely.
Instead, he focused on one bigger-picture topic: How community is undermined by inequality. There were no budget figures. There were no legislative proposals.

At least not specifically. The autobiographical elements in it seemed there to form a frame more than anything else; this wasn’t a meander through memories. (He only addressed two discrete aspects of his life, and with a glancing nod to some of the more recent headlines from last year.) His point was larger than Oregon but he kept coming back to, referring to, Oregon as he talked. As unconventional as it was, Kitzhaber clearly meant this as a state of the state speech, but one to be used in an unusual way.

The governor has legislative proposals, and a budget, coming, but in truth he didn’t need a speech to introduce those; most probably are already either in public conversation or can be reasonably guessed at. The point of this speech seemed to be its prospective use as a lodestar, as a direction he thought the legislature should take, a rough test against which legislation ought to be considered (not least, presumably, when it hits his desk).

It was meant to chart a direction, which is what state of states are intended to do.

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