Last night's televised debate between Chris Dudley and John Kitzhaber was my first chance to see Dudley in an unscripted setting. I already felt like I knew Kitzhaber fairly well, since I met him quite a few times when he was president of the state Senate back in the '80s and I was working on health policy issues -- one of Kitzhaber's core interests.
I moved to Oregon in 1971, when Republican Tom McCall was governor. I liked McCall a lot. So the notion of having a (R) after the name of the person who leads Oregon isn't automatically reprehensible to my admittedly (D) centered psyche.
(However, I've been an independent for most of my voting life, having registered as a Democrat in 2008 in order to be able to vote for Obama in the primary.)
And with some chagrin, I'll admit to having a bit of fondness for George Bush when I saw him debate Al Gore back in 2000. I didn't vote for Bush, but I thought he was a lot more centrist than the next eight years showed him to be. Unfortunately, Bush pre-election was a very different guy from Bush post-election.
Watching Dudley last night brought back those memories. Dudley is likable. He talked in a way that could appeal to many moderate voters. But I kept having the feeling that he was putting forth a unauthentic persona.
Dudley clearly was heavily scripted. He had a lot of trouble answering questions that he wasn't prepared for, like the one about land use and desirable/undesirable development. Not surprisingly, Kitzhaber's web site declared John the winner of the debate.
But the post-debate analysis included some quotes from independent analysts who dissected the candidates' performances in a succeeding televised hour. Here's what David Sarasohn of The Oregonian said:
It struck me as I was listening that you could listen to everything that Chris was saying and there is no proper nouns. There is no reference to any single factual place, person or thing. There is a series of talking points and he has about four answers which he rotates in response to particular questions but it would be hard to point to something and say ‘this is a place he feels strongly about and this is something he wants to do.’
This is why Dudley is wrong for Oregon, and Kitzhaber is right. Our state doesn't need platitudes and talking points. It needs concrete, solid, considered, wise action to deal with a host of problems: economic, environmental, social.
I was impressed with Kitzhaber's ability to think on his feet and draw upon an obviously deep knowledge -- of state government, of what's worked and hasn't worked in the past, of the different regions of Oregon.
Dudley seemed disturbingly shallow by comparison.
Like George Bush, he appeared to be a guy who'd be fun to have a beer with (especially at a sports bar). It wouldn't be enjoyable to spend four years with him as Governor, though. I suspect that, also like George Bush, he'd transform into a right-wing Republican soon after taking office, which would put him at endless odds with what almost certainly will remain a Democratic state legislature.
Oregon doesn't need gridlock. Again, we need action on a host of fronts, which John Kitzhaber is much better suited to supply, given his experience, knowledge, and demonstrated commitment to this state.