November 2017 has turned out to be a difficult month for Gov. Kate Brown. The reason why, if unaddressed, could turn November 2018 into a difficult month for her as well.
Here, presumably, is how the Brown re-election machine hoped the first couple weeks of the month would unfold. The governor would sign a pair of executive orders designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. One of the executive orders would, among other things, require all new homes to be solar-ready by October 2020.
The governor and her retinue would then jet off to a climate conference in Germany, where she would emphasize the potential for small states like Oregon to exercise climate-change leadership within a federal vacuum.
All of this would energize her base, earn praise from green groups and — cross fingers! — open up the checkbooks of campaign-contribution whales like Tom Steyer, the billionaire climate-change activist.
Most of this did, in fact, happen, including the praise. On Monday, as if on cue, the Natural Resources Defense Council praised a “groundbreaking executive order … signed by Governor Kate Brown” as “a bright spot in the darkness” of the Trump years.
Keep your eyes peeled for the Steyer check.
What Brown’s camp probably didn’t count on is the other stuff that happened even as the governor was signing executive orders and hobnobbing in Bonn, Germany.
Oregonians learned, for instance, that the state incorrectly paid health care organizations about $74 million in federal Medicaid funds over a two-year period, 2014 to 2016. Brown’s response was, to say the least, awkward. Initially, she demonstrated no inclination to seek repayment of the misspent funds. She switched gears several days later after being scolded by Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend. On Nov. 7, she directed health officials to claw back the money.
Things got even worse on Monday. Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen told lawmakers that even more Medicaid payment problems are likely to pop up in the near future. Brown was in Germany.
A carefully choreographed series of symbolic gestures couldn’t have backfired in a more damaging fashion.
Brown’s worries about the climate and the president are shared by an enormous number of people, but the governor of Oregon is not in a position to make a meaningful difference on either front. Oregon played no role in electing Donald Trump last year, as its electoral votes went to Hillary Clinton. And in 2015, the most recent year for which federal data are available, the state of Oregon produced well under 1 percent of the nation’s carbon emissions. Oregon is barely a climate-change rounding error.
Brown, in other words, was grandstanding. And it was her misfortune to be doing so just as her constituents were receiving yet another reminder that Oregon’s government is suffering from a crisis in competence. The state seems to lurch almost hopelessly from one costly screw-up to another: Cover Oregon, botched health-care payments, a runaway public pension system and almost anything the state Department of Energy touches, to name a few. Oregon is starving for effective leadership on these and so many other matters, yet we have a governor who’s busy saying, in effect, let them eat climate change.
And who did exhibit leadership while Brown was trying to make a splash in Bonn? Her likely opponent in next year’s race for governor.
Maybe Brown and her campaign brain trust figure that hammering away at Donald Trump, climate change and other hot-button issues offers a safer path to re-election than pursuing politically difficult solutions to state-level problems that stand a chance of responding to a governor’s efforts. And maybe they’re right.
Here’s hoping they’re not.
Here’s hoping, rather, that voters next year reward the candidate – Brown, Buehler or someone else – who offers the best ideas rather than the most appealingly directed anger. We don’t need a governor of climate change, a governor of The Resistance or a governor of Blue America. What we really need is a governor of Oregon.
— Erik Lukens is editor of The Bulletin.