PORTLAND — Gov. Ted Kulongoski spoke like a chief executive, and not a political candidate, in a speech Friday before the influential Portland City Club.
But after recapping his achievements as governor, Kulongoski told reporters that he’s serious about seeking re-election.
“I’m out there raising money,” Kulongoski said. “I’m out there all over the state. People won’t return my calls any more because they know why I’m calling.”
Asked why he hasn’t made any public declarations that he’s running for re-election, Kulongoski said, “We’re working on it.”
The queries came amid buzz from would-be governor candidates and their aides questioning whether Kulongoski will stay in the race.
One of those candidates, Sen. Rick Metsger, D-Welches, said Thursday that he has delayed making his decision about whether to enter the Democratic primary. Metsger said he still isn’t convinced that Kulongoski is in the race for good.
Peter Bragdon, one of the governor’s chief campaign advisers, said after the City Club speech that such speculation is common, perhaps because of the governor’s history of jumping from one job to another.
“He’s talking about what he’s doing in the next (legislative) session,” Bragdon said of the governor’s speech. “That tells me he’s going to be here the next session.”
In early October, Kulongoski raised more than $100,000 at a business breakfast in Portland, Bragdon said, even while talk continued that the governor wasn’t actively campaigning or serious about running again.
Aside from Metsger, state Sen. Vicki Walker, D-Eugene, and Lane County Commissioner Peter Sorenson are actively campaigning for the Democratic nomination. Former state Treasurer Jim Hill recently said he is considering the race, and former Gov. John Kitzhaber also has kept his name alive as a potential candidate.
Such competition in the party of an incumbent governor eligible to run again is a rarity in modern politics. However, Kulongoski has angered many in the Democratic base, and multiple polls showed he is vulnerable.
That’s causing some Democrats to push for Kitzhaber or other candidates.
Bragdon said he’s certain that Kulongoski and Kitzhaber “will never run against each other.”
In the question-and-answer period after Kulongoski’s City Club address, Portland activist Steve Novick asked him which is more important for voters: to re-elect Kulongoski or defeat the state spending lid proposed by the conservative national group FreedomWorks.
“First of all, I think you can do both,” Kulongoski said.
A similar spending cap has been in place for several years in Colorado, and that “has not done Colorado well,” Kulongoski said.
If the initiative makes Oregon’s November 2006 ballot, he said, “It’s going to be at the top of the list of things to go after.”
In response to another question, Kulongoski said he’ll continue to encourage state agencies to use open-source software, which is seen as a cheaper and more nimble alternative to Microsoft and other products. But the governor said he prefers not to set any mandates requiring such usage.