He pauses before crossing the street to BridgePort Brewpub, where he’ll initiate one last round of networking over a pint of IPA before straddling his muscle bike and goosing the throttle to get home in time to cook dinner for his wife and sons, ages seven and four. “The governor is saying, ‘Let’s go for it, let’s really make something out of this,’” he continues. “Whether I think it’s wasteful that the federal government is spending this money, that’s arguing about angels on a pin. The train is moving, and the money is coming, and it’s only prudent to do something really important with it. What’d we get with the last New Deal? We got the Hoover Dam, which fundamentally reshaped the power and water grid of the western United States.”

Ted Kulongoski and his team of Portland and Eugene sustainability wonks want to use Obama’s stimulus dollars to lay the foundation for someday unbuilding the Hoover Dam, metaphorically speaking, by retrofitting the city’s skyscrapers, one day perhaps taking the state’s entire university system off the grid, and then doing the same with home after home, neighborhood after neighborhood, city after city, state after state, so that the energy saved might one day equal the harnessed and networked power of a thousand Hoover Dams.

NANCY J. HAMILTON resembles Jamie Lee Curtis both in looks and wit: when she served as chief of staff for former Mayor Tom Potter, she kept a nameplate on her desk that read “Passionate about Her Beliefs” on one side and “Pushy Bitch” on the other. In October 2007, she signed on as Kulongoski’s director of strategic development, and last spring she became his senior policy adviser for workforce and economic development, a weighty role considering Oregon’s current $800 million budget shortfall and high rate of unemployment—more than 212,000 Oregonians, nearly 10 percent of the population, are out of work. “Oregon is not alone in this; states in general are in such a fiscal crisis right now,” says Hamilton, who lives in Irvington and divides her time between Salem and a satellite office in Portland. “I hear the governor say this all the time: this recession will end, and when it ends we need to be in a lead position, in a role to help other states and other countries do what we already know how to do. This is an economic opportunity for the state of Oregon.”

Kulongoski’s optimism has rubbed off on Hamilton. Oregon’s thirty-sixth governor seems to be at his best when the world around him has gone to hell. Soon after he was born, in rural Missouri in 1940, his father died. Four years later, unable to make ends meet, his mother left him at a Catholic orphanage in St. Louis, where he was raised by nuns. From the orphanage, Kulongoski joined the Marines, serving as a field artillery officer in Thailand; after transitioning to civilian life, he put himself through college and law school at the University of Missouri by working as a truck driver, bricklayer, and steelworker, practical experience that one imagines prepared him for the entrenched mess he’d have to dig his way out of as governor.