SALEM – Gov. Ted Kulongoski envisioned Oregon as a world leader in green technology and clean energy, maybe even a manufacturing center for electric vehicles or their batteries.
And while it hasn’t happened exactly that way, as Kulongoski prepares to leave office Monday after eight years at the helm, overcast Oregon has become a leading hub for solar energy companies. And the governor did lead an effort among Western states to reduce greenhouse gases.
It was a bold vision that was only partially accomplished – for reasons both within and beyond his control – and that’s one characterization of Kulongoski’s tenure.
His lofty aspirations for Oregon largely fell victim to two bad economies and a sex-abuse scandal that took down one of his most trusted advisers.
There were successes, to be sure. A massive construction project for new roads and bridges. Health insurance for thousands of uninsured children.
“We have kept going forward,” Kulongoski told the Associated Press in a recent interview. “If you look at where we were when we came in, the state has progressed on a whole variety of fronts.”
But Kulongoski acknowledges some of his goals never came to fruition, especially in higher education.
“When historians look back, the Kulonogski years are not really going to stand out,” said Jim Moore, Pacific University political science professor.
But Kulongoski also will be remembered as a governor who struggled to curtail joblessness and keep state budgets within bounds.
Kulongoski was perhaps Oregon’s biggest cheerleader, pitching the state to business leaders in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and elsewhere.
He has also been an advocate for Oregon’s abundant natural resources.
Renewable energy companies flocked to Oregon, lured by Kulongoski himself and by policies he supported: tax credits and a renewable energy standard requiring large utilities to get some of their energy from renewable sources.
Kulongoski worked with the governors of Washington and California to combat global warming. Their effort ballooned into the Western Climate Initiative, a collaboration among seven U.S. states and four Canadian provinces, which seeks to enact a regional cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions beginning in 2012.
But one of his signature achievements, the Business Energy Tax Credit, ran into persistent criticism that it was mismanaged and oversold.
Early in his tenure, Kulongoski wanted to remake Oregon’s higher education system by increasing access and producing better graduates, to help drive the economy.
Kulongoski turned to former Gov. Neil Goldschmidt, a trusted friend and adviser who was, Kulongoski believed, the only person with the political connections, charm and toughness to muscle through an overhaul that was certain to have powerful critics.
Six months after Kulongoski announced the effort, Goldschmidt admitted to an illegal sexual relationship with a 14-year-old girl in the 1970s and resigned. Without Goldschmidt, Kulongoski said, the education plan was no longer possible.
He said being unable to realize his higher education goals left him with what he called the largest regret of his governorship.