By Les Stiles

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I n 2003, while serving as Deschutes County sheriff, I was asked by then-Rep. Tim Knopp to sit on a Public Employees Retirement System Reform group in Salem. Oregonians knew that PERS was in need of reform to remain a viable program for public employees AND taxpayers.

The overwhelming takeaway I had from that experience was that the major union leaders had one objective — to maintain benefits no matter the cost. During a break at one of the sessions, I asked leaders of four major unions the following question: “If it comes down to maintaining benefits versus keeping police officers and teachers in smaller communities, which action would take priority — developing a new PERS system or laying off employees to maintain strong benefits?” The unanimous response shocked me: “Lay off employees to keep benefits.”

Fast forward 15 years, and we continue to kick a broken can down the road. Little has changed other than a continual and growing problem for public agencies relative to PERS.

PERS must be reformed. Continuing on the same path and expecting a different outcome is madness.

However, PERS is not the only decades-long unsolved issue in Oregon. We continue to talk about the Oregon Department of Transportation, medical care, human services, including the most recent to foster care challenges, and our bottom-of-the heap education status. We continue to wring out hands about out-of-control spending funded by increased fees, taxes and burdens on businesses and taxpayers. Salem continues a philosophy of “spend the problem away,” with no vision for change from reactive to proactive problem solving for the end game.

Enter Knute Buehler for governor, and finally, there is hope at hand.

I have been reviewing the governor candidates in this year’s Republican primary. All state their desire to serve and lead in these troubled times. All profess to be qualified to be our governor. All extol their virtues, past achievements and careers and how that will help them be an effective governor. And, all are separating themselves as to who is the best Republican.

Sadly, the best Republican is not what we need as our governor. We need a governor who has experience and time on the job in Salem, who understands how our system works and what is required to accomplish something for Oregonians and those depending on quality service.

We need a governor who can articulate viable options and shows the commitment and fortitude to address the difficult and complex issues that worry us all.

I have found only one Republican (and no Democrat) who has a vision and solid plans to lead Oregon through its huge issues — Knute Buehler. The other candidates say the right things but cannot back them up with solid stances or experience to address Oregon’s future.

Governing requires unique skills in collaboration, listening, understanding and servant leadership. Governing demands a commitment to do the hard right over the easy wrong. After decades of weak and ineffective leadership, Oregonians are paying a heavy price that will continue to hurt us for years to come. We need to embark on a new path and be prepared for a long journey to fix what is broken.

We need Knute Buehler’s vision, passion, knowledge and ability to lead in the governor’s office.

I sincerely urge Republicans to vote in the primary and further, that all Oregonians, regardless of party, take a long, hard look at the scope of our state’s needs and challenges. There is only one choice from either party for governor. Do you want that candidate to be one that will continue down a dead-end road or one that can take us on a healing journey of recovery?

— Les Stiles is a retired Deschutes County sheriff and lives in Bend.