Governor of Oregon: Democrat John Kitzhaber

Governor of Oregon: Democrat John Kitzhaber

EUGENE, Ore. - John Kitzhaber was first elected in the late 1970s to the Oregon House. He later served two terms as Governor from 1995-2003.

KVAL News sat down to talk with Kitzhaber and asked him why he is running for a third term.

"I've got some experience that I think could be useful at this moment in time," he said, "and that's why I decided to do it."

The former governor said he has a plan to deal with Oregon's double-digit unemployment and the stagnant economy.

"We've got a huge opportunity to re-employ people in rural Oregon with a biomass industry putting those idle mills back to work," said Kitzhaber, who graduated from South Eugene High School and was an emergency room doctor in Roseburg when he entered politics.

"We've got huge opportunities to capture jobs and investments in a new clean energy economy," Kitzhaber said.

A big economic issue to be dealt with is the state's Public Employee Retirement System. Kitzhaber said there has been an increase in the employer contribution to PERS, which is a big part of the budget problem.

"We're going to have to address that in our next session or through very tough collective bargaining," he said.

He said he's made it clear to his friends in the public employee unions that it's an issue the state will have to deal with.

"We're going to have to deal with it as part of our budget because it's part of the deficit," he said.

The state's on-going struggle with school financing is high on Kitzhaber's priority list. He said Oregonians need to recognize that public schools are essentially going to be flat funded in the next two years.

"None of us like it but the reality is we've got this structural deficit so the question is not what are going to cut, but how do we take the money we have and invest it differently going forward to maximize the return for our students," he said.

KVAL News asked Kitzhaber if he supports the ballot measure that would allow for medical marijuana dispensaries in Oregon.

"I don't actually support the measure, but I am a strong supporter of the use of medical marijuana," he said.

He voted for some of the early legislation that allowed the use of marijuana for glaucoma and for the nausea associated with chemotherapy.

"My concern about the measure it seems like a pretty dramatic expansion of access, if you will, and we obviously haven't had much of a public dialog on who's going to get to operate these clinics and why we need that many," he said.

Another ballot measure up for a vote is one that calls for annual sessions for the Oregon legislature.

"I've actually always supported an annual budget session," he said.

He is not so sure about a full session with all the legislation. "I do think from a budget standpoint it makes sense," he said.