The Captain: Chris Dudley, Republican

Chris Dudley, 45, played NBA basketball for 16 years, 6 of them for the Portland Trail Blazers. After retiring in 2003, he served for roughly two years as a vice president at M Financial. In 1994, he founded the Chris Dudley Foundation, which is devoted to helping people with diabetes.

Peppler: What makes you want to run, and what makes you think you’re qualified to be the governor of Oregon?

I’m increasingly frustrated and concerned by the direction of the state. We’re among the national leaders in unemployment, second in the misery index, a national leader in homelessness and hunger. Higher education funding is 48th. New job creation, 47th. Go down the list: it’s not pretty. The role of governor is about leadership. You don’t have to spend 30 years in government to be a leader. If you look at our last two governors, they’ve had over 60 years of experience between them, and here we sit. Life experiences outside government are just as valuable. Playing in the NBA is a good example of working with people from different backgrounds toward a common goal. I talked with Governor Vic Atiyeh a few weeks ago about it. You need to be a strong leader. But you need accessibility and communication, and that’s something that has, frankly, been lacking.

Wulff: Did you consider starting out with a lower office—say, Mayor of Lake Oswego?

I considered everything. I looked at how you have the greatest impact for the greatest number of people.

Wulff: By your logic, why not run for president?

That’s not realistic. Governor is.

Chambers: Oregon’s costs are completely out of control, and our income has fallen off a cliff. You’ve got businesses running for the border. What do you do about that in the first six months?

You need to look at the tax structure and make it more favorable to business. But the most important thing is attitude: sitting on the same side of the table with business. Governor Atiyeh said it’s about walking the aisles and meeting with leaders of both sides once a week. I was just down in Roseburg, and I asked Senator [Jeff] Kruse, “When was the last time you sat down with the governor?” He said in eight years he never had. That tells you something.

Chambers: How will you control health care and pension costs?

Frankly, there are going to be some negotiations that aren’t going to be easy. But you have to ask what’s best for Oregon as a whole, not for one group. Teachers and firefighters, they’re great people. My whole family is educators. But the system is broken. We had some tough negotiations in the NBA, and it went to a lockout. But at the end of the day, we came out with something good for everyone.

Forbes: What do you think of Oregon’s universities moving to public corporation models of governance?

I’ve endorsed it. We should not have 6,300 line items for higher education. We should have one. The bottom line is to release the universities from legislative micromanagement.

Peppler: What’s your strategy for working in Salem, particularly if the Democrats retain control?

For one thing, I don’t think they’ll have a supermajority. People will at least have to talk. As governor, you have some power. I can be pretty persuasive.

Chambers: We’re in the fourth quarter, and Oregon is behind. The mind-set is that we’re going to keep taxing the business community for the income we need so that government doesn’t have to change. It’s going to take a tremendous shift in mind-set. What does leadership look like?

There’s a feeling out there that it’s a zero-sum game. Private and public are fighting over a static size of pie. I was just reading two books by Jack Kemp from the 1970s, and, other than the inflation, they could have been written today. The message is, we have to grow.

Peppler: What specific programs would you cut?

When I sit down with government workers, they say, come every June 30 we’re under tremendous pressure to spend every dollar we get, because if we don’t spend it, we don’t get it next year. That’s a false incentive. So it’s looking at zero-based budgeting. Let’s look at what’s working and what’s not.

Wulff: The Tea Party could make or break any Republican. What’s your relationship with that group and that philosophy?

When you say “Tea Party,” it’s not a defined thing. It’s basically, “We can do better.” The Tea Partiers are scared, and there’s a complete lack of trust in government. Last week, there was a poll that asked, “In the federal budget, how much is waste?” And the answer across the country was 53 percent. There’s a sense that the leaders in government are beholden to special interests. It resonates with me because I’m an outsider. I won’t owe anyone anything.

Chambers: There’s a perception in rural Oregon that whatever Portland wants, Portland gets. How would you try to bring rural and urban Oregon together?

You spend as much time outside of Salem as inside. You should have a town hall with representatives of every county every year. That’s not been done.

Peppler: What does Oregon look like after four years of a Dudley administration?

We have jobs. Our education has improved. We have stable funding for education. And we’re growing. I would like us for once to be below the national level of unemployment. And balance is restored. If we do that, our future is bright.

For Chris Dudley’s views on kicker reform, Measures 66 and 67, and K–12 education, check out the full transcript including a downloadable audio recording.