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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow New governor receives warm welcome

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New governor receives warm welcome

Gov. Ted Kulongoski tried a lick of sauce while visiting the kitchen staff during his inaugural dinner Wednesday night in Baker City. (Baker City Herald/S. John Collins).
Gov. Ted Kulongoski tried a lick of sauce while visiting the kitchen staff during his inaugural dinner Wednesday night in Baker City. (Baker City Herald/S. John Collins).

By MIKE FERGUSON

Of the Baker City Herald

Saying he didn't know anywhere else where he felt so at home, Gov.-elect Ted Kulongoski celebrated his third and final road inaugural bash over steaming plates of spaghetti at the Baker Elks Lodge Wednesday with about 250 supporters, admirers and dignitaries.

He may have been criticized for being short on promises during the fall gubernatorial campaign, but Kulongoski did make one pledge Wednesday: after voters decide whether to raise their state income taxes Jan. 28, he will not support any general tax increase over the next biennium.

"I still think (Measure 28) is the right thing to do, but I've been saying all along that we have to live within our means," he said.

The $11.4 billion budget he will unveil Friday will be $2 billion less than the current budget.

"Those cuts will occur," he said. "The question is whether we can make smart decisions. If we do, when this economy turns around — and it will — we'll be in position to take advantage."

Investing in children is an important pillar of his budget, he said.

"Economic development in all of Oregon is best done by investing in eduction, health care, literacy and the social safety net," he said. "I want your kids to be as proud of Baker City, Pendleton and Ontario as you are. We have our differences, but if we keep our eye on what's best for all of Oregon, there's no problem you or I can't solve."

Kulongoski also recalled a day in Baker City last summer when he and his wife, Mary Oberst, were having breakfast at the Geiser Grand hotel. Oberst went off on a walk, and the next thing Kulongoski noticed were the police roaring by on Main Street, stopping at the Leo Adler House.

"I saw the police talking to the culprit who'd broken into the Adler House — and it was my wife!"

No one was around when she knocked, so she just went in, he said. But the door to the museum was not only unlocked, but alarmed, as Oberst found out.

"She was trying to explain that she hadn't taken anything," Kulongoski said. "I have very fond memories of law enforcement here in your community."

Like previous celebrations in Bend and Medford, Kulongoski didn't go back to Salem empty-handed. Tabor Clarke presented him and the future First Lady with a hand-cut Italian leaded crystal vase.

Former legislator Mike Nelson, a member of Kulongoski's transition team, gave him an Oakland A's warm-up jacket that all-star left-fielder Joe Rudi — who works at Nelson's real estate firm — recently wore during a Major League Baseball event.

There were other practical gifts as well. Master of Ceremonies and Baker County Commission Chair Fred Warner Jr. offered Kulongoski a compass so he could "always find his way back to Baker County." Eastern Oregon University Provost John Miller gave him an EOU tie, "even though I can see you don't like to wear them in public."

Oberst was handed a bouquet of roses.

Everybody in attendance received a keychain with trademark bowling pins being knocked over by a giant bowling ball with the inscription, "Can Do! Governor's Inaugural Ball 2003."

A long list of speakers rose to praise Kulongoski before he in turn took the rostrum.

"Speaking as a physician," said Baker City councilor Dr. Chuck Hofmann, "I suppose it's only fair for us doctors to turn the executive office back to the lawyers." Governor John Kitzhaber, Oregon's governor since 1995, is an emergency room doctor.

Bob Levy of Umatilla County, another member of Kulongoski's transition team, said people in his county can't believe that the next governor has made an effort to listen to them.

"One man said he was impressed and stunned that the governor took the time to talk with us," he said. "A farmer told me he tells us exactly what he thinks. People are very excited about moving forward."

Les Minthorn with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation noted that his reservation "has been trying to build our economy for some time. We're counting on Ted."

Carter Kerns of Pendleton took some credit for getting Kulongoski elected, noting the governor-elect has been riding in the Pendleton Round-Up parade on the same horse since he ran successfully for Attorney General in 1992.

"In those days, everybody knew the horse, but nobody knew the guy on the horse," Kerns said. "I think everybody in Pendleton knows who you are now."

In 1991, while still serving in the legislature, Kulongoski "put together solutions to the worker's compensation and juvenile justice problems, and they're currently not problems," said Union County attorney Ray Baum, who served in the legislature at the same time.

Once, in between jobs, Kulongoski told Dan Ousley of Wallowa County that the one job he really wanted was District Attorney of Wallowa County.

"Unfortunately, I was District Attorney of Wallowa County," Ousley said. "When he became a supreme court justice, you can bet I supported that move."

Baker City resident Peggi Timm reminded Kulongoski that he had stood her up in 1982 while running unsuccessfully for governor against Vic Atiyeh.

"He asked me to put on a party for him, and so I called my friends and we had all the wine and cheese ready — but no Ted," she said.

The legislature had not adjourned as planned, and Kulongoski had to remain that night in Salem. But he did telephone the Timm residence, and "over the speaker phone, Ted tried to convince us he was the right man for the job," she said.

Rather than extolling Kulongoski's virtues Wednesday, Timm told him, "I want to tell you how wonderful we are."

And so she did, urging Kulongoski to "think of Eastern Oregon every day. In fact, the first thing when you wake up in the morning, I want you to have us on your mind."

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