Election year "State of the (insert government here)" speeches are always a hoot. Leaders are forced to strike a tricky balance between proposing new ideas and glossing over the reasons why they haven't already used their office to advance those ideas. And that's exactly the position Governor Ted Kulongoski found himself in last Friday, February 24, when he delivered his State of the State address to the City Club of Portland.
Kulongoski's speech was a mixture of "Hooray for Oregon" grandstanding and a platform for a handful of new ideas. The curious thing: At least two of those "new" ideas sounded awfully familiar.
First, he pitched the Healthy Kids Plan, which would provide basic health coverage to children from low-income households. To cover the projected $110 million in additional expenditures for the plan, Kulongoski plans to introduce legislation to impose a tax on cigarettes.
If that sounds familiar, here's why: There is currently a proposed ballot measure (The Family Health and Wellness Act) working through the petition process that would do precisely the same thing. One of its chief proponents is, oddly enough, newly independent gubernatorial candidate Ben Westlund, state senator from Deschutes County. If the measure gets enough signatures to land on the ballot, it will be before voters months before the legislature could even debate Kulongoski's plan.
The governor also proposed renewable energy legislation that would establish requirements for limiting fossil fuel use and provide tax credits for the growing of biofuel crops and the production of fuel from those crops. Those same ideas are being floated in a proposed ballot measure called the Apollo Project, which is also co-sponsored by Westlund.
Westlund's campaign, though, says it doesn't mind the crossover of ideas. "Those are the issues that people care about. These are not new concepts," campaign manager Stacey Dycus told the Mercury. "We all agree on the ideas," she added. "The question now is who has the leadership to get them done."
Meanwhile, things appear to be looking up for state Democrats. According to a new poll by Rasmussen Reports that pitted Kulongoski against each of the three Republican candidates, the governor came out winning by several percentage points. Interestingly, one of his Democratic challengers, former State Treasurer Jim Hill, scored nearly as well and, according to the poll, would beat whatever candidate the GOP puts up.
The results may be somewhat suspect, however. Rasmussen didn't include independent candidate Westlund or Democrat Pete Sorenson, who's been campaigning since last year.