The team PowerPointed the Oregon Way for the governor on January 30. Less than a week later, Chen unveiled the plan to Browner. And six days after that, at a press conference at Portland State University, Kulongoski issued Executive Order No. 09-06, “Using Oregon’s Green Advantage to Maximize the Federal Economic Recovery Package,” creating the framework for cities, organizations, and private companies to partner with state agencies and submit proposals to the Oregon Way Advisory Group and, ultimately, to the federal agencies responsible for doling out stimulus dollars. So, while elected officials in other states were fighting over what to do with the anticipated influx of grants, Oregon already had its strategy in place and had achieved a private audience with one of Obama’s top advisers.
Suddenly, the governor’s receptionist was fielding 202-prefixed calls from an alphabet soup of federal agencies, including the US Department of Housing and Urban Development and the departments of energy and transportation, not to mention a certain address on Pennsylvania Avenue. “It’s that aggregated collective buzz that’s starting to happen that’s really exciting,” Hamilton says.
TWO DAYS LATER, after the governor has suffered through a press conference outlining the state’s dire economic forecast, Chen is lounging on a sofa in his guesthouse, which doubles as his home office—a two-story aerie of exposed-concrete walls, recessed halogen lights, a gas fireplace, and massive windows overlooking the Northwest industrial district.
Chen, who sits on the board of the Portland branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, says he’s just seen the government’s latest official economic forecast, which he summarizes in two words: oh, crap. “I feel for any government elected official these days,” he says. “I’m grateful that the governor had enough bandwidth to look to the future of this whole federal stimulus thing and not be so depressed by the ugly realities that he couldn’t grab hold of a positive and spend time and energy on that executive order. He just said, ‘Get this thing done,’ and in two weeks, it was. … We moved faster on this than any other state in America.”
On the surface, the Oregon Way doesn’t seem all that transformational. The slides that the Oregon Way drafting team presented to the governor are replete with platitudes from Kulongoski’s recent state-of-the-state address (“There is a green revolution stirring in America, and Oregon is the beating heart … ,” and so forth), and the language used to frame the criteria for judging the merits of proposals is disconcertingly vague.
But that ambiguity, insists Chen, is the Oregon Way’s intuitive brilliance. “I want to unleash creativity,” he explains. “I’m not telling you what to do, I’m just telling you what the rules are. I’m not telling you how to create … I’m just telling you what it takes to win.”