Gov. Ted Kulongoski and challenger Ron Saxton didn't pull any punches at their debate in Welches this summer.

They didn't have to Oregon is facing substantive issues, and both candidates aim to take them on.

A newspaper editor visiting from Louisiana was impressed enough to say his state would gladly take the loser as their governor.

The winner in this race, however, is Oregon. We heard the debate and we've sat down with both men and feel both candidates could serve as governor. Voters aren't faced with question of the lesser of two evils this election, but rather a judgment on who would make a better chief executive for the state at this time.

There's a lot we like about Ron Saxton's platform, from further reforming public retirement funding to pursuing accountability for education spending.

But Gov. Ted Kulongoski's performance these past four years has been able, if not flashy. His insights into Oregon politics and the role of compromise betray a mind keenly aware of the importance of the art of the deal. And his diagnosis of Oregon's economic woes and possibilities seem spot on and specific.


o Kulongoski took office in the depths of a serious budget crisis and when the legislature failed to make cuts, he did it instead. Credit Ron Saxton for bringing the PERS crisis to the forefront in the 2002 primary, but Kulongoski took on the task of implementing reforms, despite losing the support of his main voting base, public employees unions, in the process. The unions supported other Democrats in the May primary.

o Kulongoski sought funding to invest in highway and other transportation projects, helping build the infrastructure that moves goods in and out of the state, and creating employment where none existed in Oregon in 2003.

o Kulongoski wants the state to make a similar investment in education, the foundation for the human infrastructure of our economy.

And while we like Saxton's push for accountability of how education funds are spent, the governor has a refreshing attitude about how the state has gone wrong pushing college as the only avenue to success in life, arguing that public education should also be a pathway to a skill or trade.

andquot;We've sent the wrong message that if you don't a college degree, it's dishonorable to work with your hands,andquot; he told us. In a county where less than 17 percent of the residents have a college degree, the prospect of education that prepares our youth to make a living wage in Baker County resonates.

o Kulongoski demonstrates a knowledge of Baker County and rural Oregon's economic development problems that he boils down to three issues: no commercial airports, no short line railroad and no community college. His andquot;ConnectOregonandquot; program provides a way for local leaders to address the first two issues with help financing the transportation improvements, while promoting creation of trade schools could provide Baker County an answer for the third.

Perhaps the clincher for us is that Baker County has had good access to the governor's office during the last four years through local appointees Democrats and Republicans to state boards.

And with a Democratic county commission chair who, running unopposed, will remain commission chair for the next four years, we think that the improved access gained by Baker County on the state level will continue for the next four years.

We endorse Ted Kulongoski for governor.