Retired NBA player Chris Dudley won a tough primary in the race for Republican candidate for Oregon governor. On Nov. 2 he faces John Kitzhaber, former governor and state legislator with decades of electoral experience. In this at times contentious interview with The Skanner News staff, Dudley outlined an independent position on jobs, education, and the "economic time bomb" many observers predict will go off in our state during the next term of office.
The Skanner News: How hard do you think Oregon has been hit by the national economic crisis, and what is your plan to fix Oregon's local economy?
Chris Dudley: When you look at numbers and say that Oregon is 47th in job creation as a state, that Portland is I think it is 48th in job creation, those are relative. All those other states, all those other cities are dealing with the same national economy that we are, so I think you have to look at two sides -- the unemployment rate is high, but in Oregon the unemployment rate has been higher than the national average for 26 of the last 32 years. So we've got some things that come from the national economy but there are a lot of statewide things that have to be addressed to turn it around.
I can tell you in talking to business owners in our city and in our state that a lot of them think that business is a four letter word, especially in the city, and we have to turn that around. It's really the idea that we need jobs for everything – we need to be able to have the schools that we want and the roads that we want and the infrastructure that we need to have revenue and we get that from job creation.
SN: About the third of Oregon high school students don't graduate in four years. What are you going to do to fully fund education?
Dudley: Well I think there's two parts there. One is, to fully fund I think we're going to have to prioritize where our dollars go, and I've said education to me is priority number one. With a shrinking – well not shrinking but not growing as fast –budget, government is going to be in a process where it has to prioritize where its dollars are going. To me you should fund your top priorities first, make sure they go towards education.
Now within that we should make sure that we're doing a good job with the dollars that are going towards education and that we get the results for those dollars. I think that's equally as important. I think that we are at the point when we're going to have to look at what we're doing with education and make sure we're getting the results that we need.
I just came here from a group talking about pre-K and early Head Start and other programs, and they fit perfectly into that, where I said you have to justify it on both sides – morally it's the right thing to do, fiscally one dollar spent for Head Start and pre-K saves you $16 down the road. To me that should be a no-brainer. And then it's prioritizing where those dollars go and making sure more of those dollars are getting to the classroom where they're having the greatest impact.
SN: There is a movement by higher ed to separate themselves from the regular institutions that they have today, simply saying they can move quicker and so forth. What's your feeling on that?
Dudley: I've said that I think they should be not free, but less…
Dudley: Well it's not even less dependent, it's just the idea that high education right now has 6,300 line items in the budget that they're overseeing. And those line items – maybe there should be 10. Or just give them some more freedom so they don't have to go to a legislator to figure out how much to cut the grass. A lot of it is give them some freedom, but with the greater autonomy comes the greater accountability, and they are accountable to the state, they are still a state institution, they have to serve the state and serve it well.
SN: I'd like to get back to the jobs. As you mentioned a lot of people think business is a bad word. I'm curious, where do you think the governor's office actually has control enough specifically to change that attitude and either bring business in here or get individuals motivated to actually create more jobs – what needs to change in the state?
Dudley: I start off with the philosophy that government doesn't necessarily create jobs but it creates the environment in which jobs are created, and so there are certain things you can do in that regard for jobs creation. Part of that is incentives, with taxes, reduce the capital gains, free enterprise zones to get jobs to areas that haven't been there before and that could be Northeast Portland, could be rural Oregon -- different places, use those tools.
But then what the governor can do is two things. One is keep the businesses that are in our state, keep them here. And that's take care of your existing customers. And then try to go out and get other customers, recruit from other states to bring businesses in here, and do a chief economic development officer. You have to realize you're in a state here and you're in competition with 49 other states for their businesses. Oregon has an advantage in that it is an attractive place to live, it's a very livable place, and it has a lot of things going for it but businesses have to feel they have an advocate in the government as well.
SN: But already business taxes are fairly low in the state.
Dudley: Some are and some aren't. So it depends on how…so capital gains is the highest in the country, personal income tax at the high end, is the highest in the country, so those are impediments. Especially in capital gains because if you're invested, you start a company, they're looking to win their investment, they sell it -- that capital gains tax is the tax on what you sell your business for, and that's the highest in the country. We're at a disadvantage because our neighbor to the north has the lowest in the country – we're at 11 percent and they're zero – so that becomes a problem and it is disturbing to me when I talk to business people across the state who are talking about leaving our state and people are talking about going to Vancouver.
One, you can't go to zero, but you can give them some relief in that regard. And also be involved and reach out to them, say there are areas where we're lower in taxes, and we as a state have to sell those areas and make people aware of them and say here there are advantages, and really sell the state.
SN: Something that our reporter has covered a lot is the reclassification of marijuana and different kinds of even entrepreneurial-based ways of looking at what marijuana could do for our economy if it were legalized, partially legalized, there are a whole bunch of measures that have been before the legislature in the last couple of years. What's your take on that?
Dudley: Well I think the voters will decide on that. Personally I'm not in favor of legalizing marijuana. While there may be some economic benefits for the state, I also believe that with wider use there's down points to that to. There's problems with that too. So I wouldn't be in favor of that.
SN: So as far as your vision of creating more private sector jobs, I still feel unclear about … what I hear you saying is you're going to go out and drag more people back to the state of Oregon to be entrepreneurs or something like that. It doesn't seem realistic. People have been trying to do that for generations now. I mean Oregon – some people call it the Arkansas of the West Coast. I mean what is your real ace in the hole? There's an economic time bomb waiting for whomever is elected governor.
Dudley: There is. There is. And I don't want to make it sound easy or simplistic because it's not, no question. And we're at a place where our revenue side and our expenditure side is growing further and further apart, and that's a real concern. And no you don't just grab people and drag them over here but you make it a better environment, and that's one way to create jobs. We have to raise revenue.
Also there's been a disturbing trend in Oregon, really, from '97 on. Our per capita income is now at 89 percent of the national average, where our neighbor to the north is at 105 percent of the national average. And that is a recipe for disaster because the costs don't go down, so we have to create private sector job growth. We also have to create higher wage jobs, and I think education is a key component in that regard.
And I don't think the governor's office really has focused on job growth for the past 20 years. I haven't seen it, and I will tell you businesses across the state haven't seen it. I don't think you've seen that in quite some time to be honest about it.
SN: In terms of just Democrat versus Republican on the national level, we've seen the Republican Party as an institution attack the president -- I mean his failure is on their agenda, right? Privatization of Social Security – just a straight up attack on the elderly. The unemployment extension that was defeated by Republicans three times. That caused an avalanche of reader comments on www.TheSkannerNews.com, just our coverage of that alone.
The Skanner News Publisher Bernie Foster: 650,000 hits just on that one thing alone.
SN: It looks like to some people, especially in some communities, that the Republican Party is not really the party of the people that need help the most. So what are you going to do about that?
Dudley: First of all, I want to say I don't think all people who are Democrat think one way and all people who are Republican – I don't like generalities in that regard.
I'm trying to think where to start with that.
I think for myself I've walked the walk of being concerned for all people, and I think that's what the Republican Party stands for, the party of Abraham Lincoln.
Now you may look at some people at a national level and say well that person is a … that's that person. Look at me for who I am not for what somebody in Washington's doing.
SN: But it is who's going to help you get elected. I mean you're going to get contributions from all over the country…
Dudley: I'll get some but I'm my own man. I'm on my own and I've walked the walk for years. I've had a foundation for 16 years. I've had a foundation that I've never taken a dime from, nothing but given dollars to. I believe passionately in opportunity. I guess where I look at it that we need to make sure that everybody in our country has an opportunity to succeed, to get to that starting line of life prepared. Educated, healthy, and able to go and see the world. And then what you do with those opportunities, sometimes where you end up is – what you do with those opportunities.
But I think it's very important that you get to that starting line of life and that's why I had my foundation for kids with diabetes for 15 years and it's why I sponsor the I Have a Dream class, 15 years ago, that's why I'm on the board of SEI, that's why I believe so passionately in education, my family's all – I come from a family of teachers, I think as a society that we need to give people an opportunity to succeed, and I don't know if that's … forget what the other part was.
SN: It was looking at the decisions that the Republican Party as an institution has been making and what are….
Dudley: Yes but I think you could say the Republican Party is doing this, and there's plenty of Democrats to pick on as well. And frankly that's part of the problem with our country, and it's usually the few that are on the extremes that take the agenda unfortunately. But I'm my own man, and I care passionately enough – I think you have to look at somebody and see if they walk the walk.
I think I have, and will continue to do so, and I will tell you I'm not a politician. I'm running for governor to make changes in our state. I think our state is at a critical time right now. When you look at our state and say well, we're 43rd in education, 48th in job growth, and 40th down—we're at the Arkansas of the West Coast. We have to make changes. What we've been doing for the past 20 years is not working. Is not working. We need to make changes and I believe passionately that our state could have such a bright future.
We need to go in a different direction and I'll tell you, as I said -- not a politician. I'm going down there and if I'm there for four years, so be it. But we've got to turn this around. And I would say it's important to me that we – when we talk about job growth, and jobs, it's not just for a few, it's for everybody. Making sure we've got jobs. That at the end of the day – I get very worried about this – that I grew up believing in the American Dream, that you work hard, apply yourself, good things happen.
I get worried that – and I would say with good reason – the younger generation doesn't necessarily believe that today. And that to me is a problem and we need to turn that around. We need to have people believe that and believe they can get jobs and that jobs are out there and available.
I would say that whether you look at Northeast Portland or rural Oregon, social services do great things, but they're treading water. People don't actually believe, believe, that they can succeed.