Hill could rise to job

May 13, 2002 11:00 pm

Baker County Democrats must choose one of three career politicians to face off against the Republican nominee for governor this fall.

Since the GOP race is still too close to call, it makes it hard for Democrats to tailor their candidate to the particular challenge.

In Ted Kulongoski, Oregon Democrats have name recognition — both from actual service as attorney general and as an Oregon Supreme Court member, and from his past attempt at the governor's job in 1982. He has strong support as Gov. John Kitzhaber's heir apparent, and leads the polls. But the superstitious might be looking to cast their ballot elsewhere: The last time Kulongoski was the Democratic nominee was the last time a Republican won.

Bev Stein offers Democrats a former legislator and Multnomah County Commission chair, a position that is arguably "governor of Portland." Don't assume that her urban experience precludes her from understanding rural issues. Stein has been a participant in County Commission Chairman Brian Cole's relationship recruiting effort, bringing urban leaders to Baker County to learn more about what our communities have to offer the state's business community (Cole, however, has endorsed Republican Ron Saxton).

At a televised event in Salem, she responded to a question from the media about Baker County by touting the Baker Tower as a possible future home for new or expanding businesses with telecommunications needs.

That highlights a key difference between the three: both Kulongoski and Stein have been to Baker County during the campaign. Jim Hill, to our knowledge, has not been to Baker County during the latter half of 2001 or so far in 2002.

And even when he'll have the chance, his campaign is skipping Baker County: May 18, Hill plans appearances in John Day, La Grande and Pendleton.

Plenty of reason for Baker County Democrats to be resentful, for certain. But we'd advise them to check "Hill" on their ballots all the same. He has characteristics missing from the other Democrats and all of the Republicans, and they are characteristics that just might work in 2002.

To put it kindly, Hill isn't the most fiery orator. In fact, the former state treasurer is about as stereotypical an accountant as you are going to find.

With school funding and the entire state budget in crisis, however, Oregonians might give the nod to the number cruncher who can outflank his GOP opponent on budget issues.

It's faint praise, yes, but Hill strikes us as more humble public servant than politician.

He also is showing plenty of backbone, standing up to attack ads from Stein and sticking to his guns on controversial issues.

He has been the one Democrat of the three to advocate for higher alcohol and tobacco taxes, and won the endorsement of the Oregon Educatoin Association for his school funding plan.

He'ls also proposing to use the tobacco settlement money to pay for a prescription drug plan for seniors under the Oregon Health Plan, and advocated working with other states to buy prescription drugs in bulk.

Voters may not be excited about Hill now, but they can be invited to trust his judgment with the state's fragile budget ledgers.

It's a campaign that just might appeal to an Oregon electorate desperate for sound solutions, not sound bites.