How would the candidates for Oregon governor address poverty if elected to a four-year term this November? Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon asked the candidates to “name three actions you would encourage state government to take to reduce poverty in Oregon” as part of EMO's Election Guide and incumbent Ted Kulongoski, Republican challenger Ron Saxton and Constitution Party nominee Mary Starrett offered up some answers.
Governor Kulongoski would use another term to:
“Offer first-rate educational and job-skills training so that all Oregonians can improve their lives; Lower the cost of health care to help reduce Oregonian’s medical bills; Preserve our minimum and prevailing wage laws so that people receive a fair wage for their labor”
Since no one that I’m aware of is advocating that we decrease Oregon’s minimum wage there isn’t a lot to be inspired by in the governor’s response. There is little evidence that the governor's policies during his first term in office have made a difference in poverty levels.
Saxton, however, was even less bold.
“Increase accessibility and school choice in public education; Reduce bureaucracy to better serve those in need; Make state social service agencies do a better job of providing services to low income citizens”
When the candidates were asked to name “three actions you would encourage the private sector take to reduce poverty in Oregon” there was a little more in Kulongoski’s statement to be hopeful about:
“Provide pre-school to every three and four year old in Oregon through an increase in the minimum tax paid by corporations; End the practice of charging outrageous interest rates on things like car titles and check cashing; Expand Oregon Harvest Week, a yearly event I created to raise awareness about hunger in Oregon through a coalition of public and private groups”
The Republican nominee suggested that Oregon….
“Allow the private sector to provide more services to our low income citizens in place of inefficient government programs; Encourage the private sector to be more involved in public education; Increase its partnerships with and support of non-profit organizations that serve the poor”
Starrett, a former television host running as an anti-abortion candidate, offered up nothing more than anti-government rhetoric:
“By encouraging self-reliance we encourage people not tobe [sic] dependent on the state. That will reduce poverty by not promoting a welfare mentality.
Nothing the candidates offered in these brief answers will do much to actually address poverty in Oregon (though most will agree Kulongoski’s pre-school plan is needed). As the Oregon Center for Public Policy noted this week, without real increases in income and health care, and an overhaul of economic policies in the state, poverty will remain persistent. In a new report they state:
“Since 1980, Oregon has seen rising inequality among the rich, as well as rising inequality between the rich and the rest of us,” said (Michael) Leachman.
“The ultra-rich top one-tenth of one percent of Oregonians have seen their income nearly quadruple since 1980, even after adjusting for inflation, while the rest of the top one percent have seen their incomes merely double.”
The report also found that the median Oregon household has lost $73 to inflation since 1980. The report shows that the jobs Oregon has produced since the end of the 1990s economic boom have been predominantly in low-wage industries. “Nearly two-thirds of the new jobs we’ve created pay less than $30,000 a year,” said Leachman.
Just 56.8 percent of Oregon workers had at least part of their health insurance paid by their employers in 2002-04, down from 63.7 percent in 1997-99. In 2005, 31 percent of private-sector employers in Oregon offered 401(k)-type retirement plans, while just 10 percent provided guaranteed pensions. Most Oregon employers do not offer retirement plans.
Poverty is, of course, a national problem and no Oregon governor can make a real dent in poverty levels without a change in federal policies. But an activist governor could make a difference. So far none of the candidates have offered any real cause for hope.
EMO, “an association of 16 Christian denominations including Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox bodies across Oregon,” addressed the same questions about poverty to legislative candidates. Candidates were also asked to address issues central to the environment. This was the first time that EMO’s election guide – which traditionally includes endorsements on ballot initiatives – asked candidates to offer their positions on issues.