Tale of Two States
Wisconsin and Oregon both face similar huge budget shortfalls that both require massive cutbacks in state spending.
Federal “stimulus” deficit spending that has propped up all states the last two years, including Oregon and Wisconsin, has ended and finally forced states to face the reality of a longer-term down economy and adjust for reduced revenues.
Two Different Approaches
Newly elected Democrat Governor John Kitzhaber of Oregon and newly elected Republican Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin have taken fundamentally different approaches to solving their budget shortfalls without raising taxes.
Wisconsin’s approach has triggered highly charged protests all over the country and widened the political chasm separating liberals and conservatives, but Oregon’s approach has not.
Why are things so different between the two states?
It’s not because of the advantage of one political ideology over another, but rather because of the leadership and statesmanship skills of just one man.
Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber spoke about this year’s challenges during a video interview:
Symbolic of his strong leadership skills, during the interview Governor Kitzhaber sits alone on one side of the table when there are 6 interviewers grilling him from the other side. He has no notes, no teleprompter and no aides sitting nearby prompting him from the sidelines.
There isn’t even a hint of rancor. The governor sits calmly, and off-the-cuff casually explains the serious nature of Oregon’s budget shortfall and how he and the Legislature are cooperatively dealing with it.
How John Kitzhaber differs from Scott Walker
Though both governors are newly elected, Kitzhaber has a considerable experience advantage over Walker. Its Walker’s first time as Wisconsin’s top executive but Kitz has already served as two-time Oregon governor from 1995-2003.
Before 1995 Kitzhaber served 16 years in both houses of Oregon’s legislature, the last 8 as President of the Senate.
When it comes to how Oregon’s government works, Kitzhaber is the most knowledgeable man alive. His depth of understanding and ability to learn new things is unbounded.
Kitz is probably one of the smartest and best organized government officials since Thomas Jefferson.
As an emergency room physician from 1973-1986 he had to be fully prepared 24/7 to make split second, life and death decisions where you don’t have the luxury to be wrong. He brought those skills to Oregon government.
Kitzhaber is driven by ER pragmatism over political ideology. Less experienced than Kitz, John Walker, on the other hand, is driven more by conservative ideology.
Ideas over Ideology
Unlike most liberals, Kitz right away understood that raising taxes was not the solution and that deep budget cuts had to be made to even the states’ balance sheet. Just about every state in the union, including Wisconsin, face budget shortfalls.
Even before assuming office in January, Kitz organized unpaid highly targeted teams consisting of top business leaders, educators and others that were asked to produce practical solutions to help solve Oregon’s budget crisis. They did.
All teams reported before inauguration day which allowed the governor to hit the track running and take their ideas and put together and submit an austere but workable balanced budget with enough vision to see a decade beyond the current biennium.
From the Governor right down to Oregon’s local school districts facing serious layoffs there has been fundamental acceptance as to what needs to be done now and in the future.
Also before assuming office Kitz asked for and received the resignations of the top manager from every major department in state government. They were required to devise a measurable action plan to justify their department’s mission and produce rubrics how it would be accomplished.
Then they had to go through a rehiring process. The culls retired and one was let go but the job was done and now the entire state executive branch is pulling the wagon in the same direction.
Instead of organizing protests against the governor’s cutbacks, including those in union benefits, Oregon’s largest public employee union submitted its own set of cost-analyzed solutions to streamline government and reduce costs. Those came from suggestions made by its membership.
One of its centerpieces for government reform, increasing the manager/employee ratio, has been embraced and supported by Kitz.
The solutions to Oregon’s budget shortfall first embodied in Kitz’s initial budget proposal has inspired creative ideas in the state’s legislature, too. Together with the public employees union the final approved budget will be chocked full of clever, practical solutions coming from every corner of the state.
That is not to say that all the plans will work as advertised. They won’t. But every one of them could!
Under Scott Walker, Wisconsin chose a confrontational leadership approach that divided the state and the nation resulting in trench warfare polarized along ideological battle lines. The wounds will take years to heal.
Under John Kitzhaber, Oregon chose a pragmatic leadership approach founded in practical solutions and cooperative efforts. Oregon is pulling together, not fragmented along political battle lines.
Now we need a President who is more like John Kitzhaber than he is Scott Walker!