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Capital Chatter: Oregon finally has a candidate for governor

Knute Buehler makes quiet announcement he's running for GOP nomination for governor.

The only surprise about Dr. Knute Buehler's running for Oregon governor is the timing and manner of his announcement.

The Republican state representative from Bend made his announcement in a meeting with his local newspaper, and then posted it on social media. As a newspaper guy, I'm glad he went first to the Bend Bulletin. Newspaper editorial boards could sway the 2018 gubernatorial race in his favor.

But Buehler made no grand tour of the state, as statewide candidates usually do. Early August is not when most Oregonians are paying attention to politics. And Buehler had all-but-announced that he was in the gubernatorial race. For example, he's been running ads on Facebook assailing Gov. Kate Brown's tenure and promoting his policies; and legislative Democrats had been doing their best to make him look bad during the 2016 session.

Brown hasn't said whether she'll seek re-election in 2018, but her weekly schedule routinely has time blocked out for "campaign." National media, including the New York Times and Washington Post, recently have interviewed her.

Voter statistics would give Democrat Brown a significant edge. As of June, 37 percent of Oregon's 2.6 million registered voters were Democrats, compared with 27 percent being Republicans.

But there potentially is a huge swing factor: 28.8 percent of voters are not affiliated with any political party. The Independent Party has 4.6 percent of the voters, and the remainder belong to small political parties.

When Brown beat Buehler in the 2012 secretary of state's race, she won decisively — by more than 136,000 votes. He was a political unknown. He learned from the resulting criticism, becoming a state legislator to get experience.

As for newspaper editorial boards, their unanimous endorsements of Dennis Richardson last year helped him become the first Republican in decades to win election as secretary of states. In part, that's because of editorial boards' disdain for the Democrat, ultra-liberal Brad Avakian, the state labor commissioner.

The question that many people, including some fellow Democrats, ask about Kate Brown is, "Why does she want to be governor?" They lack a clear understanding of what she wants to achieve, what she wants for her legacy and what she accomplished so far as governor, despite her staff's protestations to the contrary. Frustration with Brown could tilt influential Oregonians and institutions toward Buehler — if he defines his purpose and policies instead of mostly attacking Brown, as he did in 2012.

Buehler's first challenge is to make it through the Republican primary. He is pro-abortion rights and more moderate than many Republicans. He inevitably will have Republican opponents. The party's 2016 candidate, Dr. William "Bud" Pierce of Salem, told me that he is not running for governor — and at this point, not going for any political office.

• Hiking the Oregon Coast: Forty-six years ago, work began on the 380-mile Oregon Coast Trail. House Bill 3149, which awaits the governor's signature as of this writing, directs state agencies to finish the final 57 miles, which largely lie along the shoulder of Highway 101. Most of the route is along the beach, although the trail also crosses forests and headlands.

Like most successful legislation, this bill was bipartisan. It was sponsored by state Reps. David Brock Smith, R-Port Orford; David Gomberg, D-Otis; and Buehler.

July 6 was the 50th anniversary of the signing of Oregon's venerable "Beach Bill." A magnificent portrait of Gov. Tom McCall, who was instrumental in the Beach Bill becoming law, hangs in the Oregon Capitol's House Chamber lobby.

• The Northwest economy: Last week I wrote about the NorthWest Economic Region Annual Summit, which was held in Portland. It drew people not only from Canada and the U.S. but also from around the world.

Two additional items:

- Back in 1973, McCall and other Oregon leaders created an innovative land-use system with the idea that communities always would be ready for development, including having 20 years of designated land available for economic development and housing, while also protecting farm and forest lands.

"Great aspiration. We're not quite there yet," said Jim Rue, the head of the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development.

- In his constituent newsletter after the summit concluded, Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, said the current political climate made for interesting conversations among participants:

"This was a particularly interesting moment for this conference to take place, with a high degree of tension between Canada and the U.S. over trade and different positions on immigration by our federal governments. We heard a lot of apprehension from Canadians over the policy directions the Trump administration is taking. At the same time, recent elections in Alberta and British Columbia have moved those provincial governments to the left."

Dick Hughes has been covering the state's political scene since 1976. Contact him at TheHughesisms@Gmail.com or follow him at Facebook.com/Hughesisms.

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