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The governor's task
We don’t, at this writing, know whether John Kitzhaber or Chris Dudley will make a triumphant trip to Salem to become Oregon’s next governor.
But we do know that the winner won’t have long to savor his victory in Tuesday’s election.
The chief task awaiting the governor and the Legislature when they convene at the state Capitol in January is daunting: filling a $3.2 billion chasm in the state’s budget.
This looks as though it would be an especially onerous job for Kitzhaber, and here’s why:
The unions that represent thousands of state workers were among the larger contributors to Kitzhaber’s campaign.
The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) gave $280,000, and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees handed over $155,000.
Yet come January, Kitzhaber, if elected, would need to ask those unions to make a difficult choice: either concede to significant cuts in their salary/benefits package, or watch as hundreds and perhaps thousands of their members are laid off.
If union leaders perceive that Kitzhaber has turned from ally to enemy, the situation could deteriorate rapidly.
Picket lines, perhaps.
One reason we endorsed Kitzhaber’s opponent, Republican Chris Dudley, is that Dudley made state worker compensation cuts a major plank of his platform.
Dudley’s certainly not beholden to the unions, either.
Which is not to say Kitzhaber is neither interested in, nor capable of, taking a tough stance in negotiations with the unions.
In fact, Kitzhaber pointed out during the campaign that neither the SEIU nor the Oregon Education Association (the latter was Kitzhaber’s biggest contributor) endorsed him in his spring primary tussle with Bill Bradbury.
The reason, Kitzhaber said, is that he emphasized to union officials that if elected he would expect them to make concessions on compensation.
Regardless of who wins, we’ll be watching, with some anxiety, as he tries to pull off a tricky maneuver.