Ending months of will-he-or-won’t-he speculation, Knute Buehler said Wednesday that he is running for governor in 2018.
The two-term Republican member of the state House representing Bend will seek a rematch with his long-time political rival, Gov. Kate Brown, the Democrat who beat Buehler in the 2012 race for Secretary of State.
“Governor Brown has had a chance to lead the state and has failed pretty miserably,” Buehler said. “The trajectory of the state is in the wrong direction — it needs a do-over.”
Buehler, 53, made his long-anticipated entry into the race official during a meeting with editors at The Bulletin. He does not plan a public appearance, but was expected to make his announcement Thursday morning via social media, he said.
A letter to voters will be posted on his campaign website and links sent out via Twitter, followed by an email blast to 20,000 people — friends, colleagues, politicians, donors and others.
Buehler will formally register as a candidate with the Secretary of State — online — and create a “Knute for Governor” campaign committee that can raise and spend money on the race. His suite of social media accounts will switch over to the governor’s campaign.
An orthopedic surgeon, Buehler said he would work to end the impasse between Democrats and Republicans in Salem over the scope and price of state-supported health care.
Buehler said he would also take on the fight over public employee benefits that are taking up a greater chunk of state money each year as more workers retire. Buehler said controlling the Public Employees Retirement System problem would include reworking retirement pay formulas and reforming the level of health care payments.
The cost of the PERS system handcuffs the state from investing in education, health care and transportation development. Buehler said Brown and the leadership of the Democratic-controlled Legislature continue to push for tax increases, despite the defeat of Measure 97, the business tax increase, just eight months ago.
“There is a lot of unhappiness in Oregon,” over the direction of state government, Buehler said.
Buehler has hired Rebecca Tweed, the Tigard-based political consultant who managed the no on Measure 97 campaign, to direct his campaign for governor.
Born in Roseburg, Buehler attended Oregon State University, where he was a pitcher on the baseball team. He received degrees in history and microbiology in 1986. He was the Beavers’ first Rhodes Scholar, attending Merton College at Oxford University. He earned his medical degree from Johns Hopkins Medical School in Maryland. He and his wife, Patricia, an eye specialist, have two children.
Buehler switched from political activist to candidate in 2012, winning the Republican primary for Secretary of State. He lost to Kate Brown in a bruising election the year Barack Obama was re-elected president. When Rep. Jason Conger decided not to seek re-election in 2014, Buehler won the primary and general elections for the House seat he now holds. He was re-elected in 2016 despite what he says is a 12 percent Democratic voter registration lead.
With the governor’s race, Buehler said he has more than enough on his plate to get deeply involved in the choice of candidates for his seat. Among possible Democrats who could run is Gena Goodman-Campbell, his 2016 general election opponent.
Brown has criticized Buehler’s ethics when it comes to his medical practice and his business designing medical devices.
The state Democratic Party filed an official complaint with the Oregon Ethics Commission alleging Buehler received payments from three companies that do business with the state, a violation of Oregon law.
Buehler called the complaint politically motivated. The commission sided with Buehler on the two major allegations, saying money paid by the companies to Buehler’s company was legal as long as it did not go to him personally. He received a letter of caution for his relationship with St. Charles Bend, a hospital with which he had a long-standing professional role.
Democrats responded with a bill to close what they trumpeted as “The Buehler Loophole,” by restricting payments to companies owned by elected officials. The bill did not advance out of committee, though Democrats have said they plan to reintroduce it in the future.
Before he would get a chance to face Brown, Buehler will have to win a Republican primary, where being a moderate isn’t always a benefit.
Republicans who could run include Dennis Richardson, who became the first Republican to win a statewide election in 10 years when he was elected Secretary of State in 2016.
Rep. Bill Post, R-Keizer, has hinted at his interest during his frequent Twitter broadsides against Democrats.
Furthest along the road among possible GOP candidates is Happy Valley Mayor Lori Chavez-DeRemer.
She has created and filed with the state a “Lori Chavez-DeRemer for Governor” committee that can raise and spend money for a gubernatorial bid.
But she has stopped short of officially announcing her candidacy. Chavez-DeRemer has hired a Portland-area polling firm often affiliated with GOP candidates around the country and paid them $8,000 for unspecified work, according to a campaign finance filing with the Secretary of State.
If he wins the primary May 15, Buehler will become the standard-bearer for the Republican Party in Oregon. He will have to contend with any benefit or fallout that might accrue to his candidacy from the national Republican leader, President Donald Trump. Trump’s polling numbers have fallen since he defeated former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in November.
Buehler was highly critical of Trump during the primary campaign and was among GOP politicians who suggested Trump bow out of the general election after the “Access Hollywood” audio tapes were released with Trump making lewd comments about women and suggesting his celebrity allowed him to get away with groping and kissing any woman he wanted.
Following Trump’s election, Buehler said he was going to concentrate on Oregon issues and stopped commenting on Trump. But he broke with most Republicans in Oregon — including U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, who represents Bend in Congress — by issuing an open letter last spring on his personal Facebook page criticizing Trump’s actions and attitude as chief executive.
Buehler said he will navigate attacks from the left and right by aiming down the middle.
Tacking one way or the other just opens a candidate to charges of shaping his or her message to an audience.
He will focus on beating Gov. Brown and hope Republicans will rally to his campaign even if his positions don’t tick off every box on their political wish list.
“I think being a pro-choice Republican and a pro-marriage equality Republican is a challenge” in the primary, Buehler said. But if Republicans want to take back the state’s top job for the first time in since Vic Atiyeh won his second term in 1982, there is something else they should take a look at.
“I’m a Republican who has proven he can win in a Democratic district,” Buehler said.
— Reporter: 541-525-5280, firstname.lastname@example.org