September 18, 2009 Volume 110 Number 18

Kitzhaber gets early backing from UFCW

Former Oregon governor John Kitzhaber heard words of encouragement from organized labor in the first few days after his Sept. 2 announcement he will run for governor again in 2010.

The state’s largest private-sector union, 17,800-member United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555, had its Active Ballot Club and Executive Board meetings the day after the announcement, and voted to endorse Kitzhaber.

Then Sept. 7, Kitzhaber attended the Northwest Oregon Labor Council Labor Day picnic in Portland, where he did burger flipping duty for Local 555 members, and got a personal escort around Oaks Park from Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain and Oregon AFSCME Executive Director Ken Allen.

Allen said Kitzhaber got a very positive response from picnic attendees.

“On health care, the environment, green jobs … there’s nobody better to be our governor,” Allen said. Oregon AFSCME has yet to announce any timetable for its endorsement process.

Kitzhaber, a Democrat, was Oregon’s governor from 1995 to 2003, and faced a Republican-led Legislature all eight years. During that time, he set a record for the number of bills he vetoed.

As of press time no other Democrat had announced, though two-term former secretary of state Bill Bradbury has been considering a run, and said he will make an announcement Sept. 17 (after this issue went to press). At least three candidates are seeking the Republican nomination: Allen Alley, Jason Atkinson, and John Lim.

UFCW Local 555 Secretary-Treasurer Jeff Anderson said Local 555 was also the first union to back Kitzhaber the first time he ran for governor.

“We think he’s going to be very instrumental as governor in doing health-care reform, which is emerging as the biggest financial issue facing our members,” Anderson said.

Kitzhaber, a former emergency room doctor and state legislator from Roseburg, is credited as the architect of the Oregon Health Plan, which he passed as Oregon Senate president and defended as governor. And in recent years he founded and led the Archimedes movement, a group that has proposed that Oregon could insure all residents for no more money than the government is already spending in Medicare, Medicaid and the tax subsidy for employer-sponsored health care.

In his campaign announcement, Kitzhaber called “partisanship and stakeholder politics” the greatest obstacles Oregon faces. Labor may be such a stakeholder, but Allen said not he’s not put off by the comment.

“There’s two things I like about Kitzhaber,” Allen said. “Nobody owns him, and his door is always open. He’s not going to be 100 percent every time we go to him, but knowing that the business community doesn’t own him, that’s big.”

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