Ask any candidate to name the most pressing challenge facing Oregon, and the answer will be the same: Jobs. Given a one-item list of priorities, a candidate with a history of actually creating jobs, and with a record in government that offers a promise of effective leadership, rises to the top. For Republicans choosing among nine people seeking their partyâ€™s nomination for governor, that candidate is Allen Alley.
Alley, 56, came to Oregon in 1988 after stints as an engineer for Ford, Boeing and a Boston computer graphics company to work for InFocus, a maker of projection equipment. He shifted into the field of venture capital and co-founded Pixelworks, a maker of integrated circuits for flat-panel displays. Alley knows what it takes to start a company in Oregon and make it grow, because heâ€™s done it himself.
In 2007 Gov. Ted Kulongoski appointed Alley as his deputy chief of staff, with duties in the areas of economic development, transportation, technology, workforce training and energy policy. Alley praises Kulongoski for his attention to childrenâ€™s health and education. He says the current governor is more focused on Oregonâ€™s economic well-being than was his predecessor, Gov. John Kitzhaber, who stands a good chance of being the GOP nomineeâ€™s opponent in the general election. But Alley adds that Kulongoski â€śerrs on the side of government,â€ť whereas he would err on the side of â€śgiving people an opportunity to take care of themselves.â€ť
Alleyâ€™s connection to true-blue Democrat Kulongoski makes him suspect in some Republicans circles. A willingness to put state before party, however, shows political maturity and pragmatism. Any Republican will need to win more than just Republican votes to be elected governor, and Alley has already shown promise in this area. In 2008 he was the Republican nominee for the office of state treasurer, and received more votes in Oregon than the partyâ€™s presidential candidate, John McCain.
Of all the GOP candidates for governor, Alleyâ€™s policy proposals are most detailed. He calls for eliminating capital gains taxes on job-creating investments in Oregon, allowing businesses to borrow against their tax liability for investment purposes, and directing a larger portion of state investments toward Oregon companies. He sees opportunities for growth in Oregonâ€™s natural resources industries, including timber, and in the field of renewable energy. He believes that assisting existing Oregon companies, mainly by reducing their tax and regulatory burdens, will yield greater and more lasting results than recruiting out-of-state firms.
Alley approaches government with the eyes of an engineer, seeing it as a machine that can be tuned for greater efficiency and better results. The results, he says, are currently unacceptable, with chronic unemployment, hunger and homelessness. The key is to get the economy growing faster than the government, whose expansion can be slowed through zero-based budgeting, a budgetary reserve fed by the general fund and a reduction in pension liabilities. Itâ€™s a well-rounded package of proposals, and any GOP nominee would be well-advised to borrow chunks of it.
Alleyâ€™s most formidable challenger is Chris Dudley, 45, a graduate of Yale University who works as a financial planner. Dudley is a 16-year veteran of the National Basketball Association, including a stint with the Portland Trail Blazers, which gives him the political benefits of celebrity. Dudley has never held or sought elective office, and hopes to turn his outsider status to his advantage. He argues that Oregon has had enough of professional politicians and needs someone who can â€ścome in fresh.â€ť
Dudley has charisma that Alley lacks â€” at 6 feet, 11 inches tall, he draws attention just by walking into a room. But in debate and in conversation, it becomes clear that his prescription for Oregon is a less detailed version of Alleyâ€™s. Dudley sees Oregon suffering from the same afflictions Alley has identified â€” economic anemia, governmental bloat, deteriorating social conditions and a hostile business climate. He offers many of the same solutions â€” zero-based budgeting, pension reform, and improved tax and regulatory system. The parallels between the two candidatesâ€™ positions make it plain that Alley has a superior grasp of detail, and a correspondingly better chance of successfully implementing his agenda.
A third candidate should not be overlooked: John Lim, 74, a former state representative and senator from the Gresham area. Of all the candidates, Lim is the only one with experience as an elected official. As a legislator Lim was reliably conservative but also showed a streak of independence â€” he supported, for instance, the state standard requiring utilities to obtain 25 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2025, and includes Democrat Neil Goldschmidt on the list of former governors he admires most.
Like everyone else in the race, Lim speaks strongly about the need to improve the economy. But in his positions Lim is closer to the GOP mainstream than either Alley or Dudley, describing the former as a Democrat in Republican clothing and the latter as bringing nothing to the race but star power. Lim has courted the support of tea party activists, and claims that if Republicans want to nominate a conservative they will have to look to him. He is supported by Oregon Right to Life, and opposes both same-sex marriage and civil unions.
Lim has a compelling biography â€” a difficult childhood in wartime South Korea, arrival in the United States with little but hope, success in business and politics. He says that as the United Statesâ€™ first east Asian governor, he could open international trade and tourism opportunities for Oregon. But Lim canâ€™t match Alley for the breadth and coherence of his economic and budgetary proposals.
Rounding out the top tier of Republican candidates is Bill Sizemore, 59. As the author of a series of anti-tax initiative measures, Sizemore may have had a greater impact on Oregon government than any governor in the past 20 years. But as a politician, heâ€™s a bust â€” as the Republican nominee for governor in 1998, he lost by a wider margin than any gubernatorial candidate in modern history. Sizemore has the further problem of being under indictment on state tax charges, and having been found guilty of racketeering in a civil suit.
Thatâ€™s a lot of baggage. Sizemore may win votes because of name familiarity and from die-hard supporters who believe heâ€™s the target of persecution, but the Republican Party doesnâ€™t need him at the head of its ticket.
Five other candidates are on the ballot, only two of whom have statements in the Votersâ€™ Pamphlet: research scientist William Curtright and real estate manager Rex Watkins. None has the stature, experience or statewide organization that would lead Oregon Republicans to look beyond their top four candidates.
Looking ahead to the general election, the Republican nominee will be making an argument for change after 24 years of Democratic leadership. At the same time, heâ€™ll need to present himself as a competent manager and reformer of state government. In this crowded field, one Republican is best-prepared to send that dual message: Allen Alley.