Republican Knute Buehler believes he can unseat Democratic Gov. Kate Brown in November because “There’s no one else like me. I have a great diversity of experiences.”
But first, he'll have to fend off a number of GOP opponents in the primary, including Keenan Bohach of Keizer; Bruce Cuff of Lyons; Jonathan Edwards III of Gresham; Brett Hyland of Portland; Jeff Smith of Elgin; David Stauffer of Portland; Jack Tacy of Lebanon and Greg Wooldridge.
The Roseburg native, who played baseball for the OSU Beavers, says he's what Oregon needs and wants — someone who can work across both sides of the aisle to solve tough problems:
• State programs that are lacking at a time when tax revenue is at an all-time high.
• An education system smothered by payments to the Public Employee Retirement System.
• A rural-urban economic divide that never seems to close.
Buehler, who represents Bend in the House of Representatives, told the Albany Democrat-Herald's editorial board on Friday that the same strategies that have allowed him to win election in a heavily Democratic city could work statewide.
But, he noted, some issues transcend party affiliation.
“I supported a bill that would allow women to purchase birth control over-the-counter,” he said. “That measure is proven to decrease abortions and reduce pregnancies, which often lead to poverty.”
He supports gun owners' Second Amendment rights but believes in common-sense measures to reduce gun violence. He also supports raising the age to purchase certain firearms to 21, imposing a three-day waiting period for the purchase of handguns, and banning the sale of bump stocks, which allow a semi-automatic firearm to fire rapidly. He also backed a bill that would keep people with restraining orders or domestic assault convictions from owning firearms.
Buehler called the state's underfunded public pension system "the 900-pound elephant in the room.”
The state owes the system some $22 billion, and elected officials wrestle with getting it under control every legislative session, he said. “I would not sign any new budget increase — fund no new programs — until there was a bill on my desk directed at PERS,” Buehler said.
Buehler said school districts across the state are seeing increases in their annual budgets, but are having to lay off staff and increase class sizes to meet their PERS liabilities.
Buehler believes in a number of solutions: putting a $150,000 cap on annual payouts, making state employees pay into their retirement plans, and moving them to a 401K-style retirement.
Buehler said Gov. Brown has not taken a strong leadership position on the issue.
“Oregon needs a leader who will force improvements,” he said. “Gov. Brown is not getting the job done.”
He pointed to one example: A recent audit of the state’s child welfare program that showed it in need of an overhaul. “There are so many failures statewide that you have to look to the top and ask leaders to look in the mirror,” he said.
Buehler said the state must deal with its lack of mental health programs. He said the state closed its in-residence mental health facilities several years ago, but has failed to develop workable and accessible community-based facilities.
“We need to build residential facilities, harden our school infrastructures and provide more resources for our schools,” he said. “We also need more training for our law enforcement officers.”
Buehler said because the state has failed to follow through on its mental health program obligations, local police departments and jails often become de facto care facilities.
“We especially need school-based programs for our young people,” he said. “We need to get treatment to people in need before they get horribly sick and start committing crimes.”
Buehler thinks there should be one statewide contract for school teachers and that the state should adopt best practices that have succeeded in other states, such as making sure children know how to read by the third grade, putting the best teachers in some of the most disadvantaged neighborhoods, and allowing students to move to schools that meet their needs and learning styles.
Buehler does not oppose toll roads or bridges, but only for new construction and not as a behavior changing tool.
“We need smart lanes that we could use for high occupancy vehicles and buses now, but transfer later to autonomous vehicle lanes,” he said. “We must expand our transportation network.”
Buehler supports both agriculture and timber.
“I don’t think we should go back to clear-cutting, but there certainly is opportunity in increasing forest health and supporting new technology such as laminated panels for building construction,” he said. “If we truly want to reduce our carbon footprint, we need to reduce forest fires. The 600,000 acres of timber that burned last year emitted as much carbon as every vehicle in Oregon for three years.”
Agriculture could benefit from increasing irrigation from the Columbia River, but also by adding value to ag products which are highly valued worldwide. He said the growth of the state’s breweries and wineries is an example of agricultural added value.