BURNS - Gubernatorial candidate John Kitzhaber was in Burns on Thursday, Sept. 9, to visit with the Eastern Oregon Rural Alliance and listen to their concerns.
In his opening statements to the group, Kitzhaber said he had hoped to also have a debate with his Republican opponent in this year's governor's race, Chris Dudley, while he was in Burns, but the two sides couldn't get the details worked out.
Kitzhaber stated that his main priorities if elected would be improving the private sector economy and dealing with the budget shortfall.
Noting the diversity of the state's areas, Kitzhaber said the state needs to use regional strategies as there are different challenges in different spots, and he would like to drive the per capita income of Oregonians back up above the national average.
Kitzhaber said that for rural Oregon, he would like to see more infrastructure management, including a fast-track siting process for wind farms.
As for the budget, Kitzhaber said, "We have an opportunity in this budget crisis to change the way the state government invests its resources. We can take cuts like we have or we can use what we have in a better way."
In an open forum, members of the alliance asked Kitzhaber about his views on topics including the possibility of challenging environmental groups.
"I have a strong record of environmental stewardship, and I realize there is gridlock over here," Kitzhaber said. "We need more active management of forests and the development of the woody biomass industry. We need to create a 10-year strategy to bring out trade-offs with the conservation interests."
To illustrate his point, Kitzhaber said people want natural gas, but they don't want a pipeline.
"There has to be trade-offs," he stated.
Kitzhaber said his plans for a more efficient government include him asking for the resignations of all state agency directors and managers, and he would appoint or reappoint those dedicated to increasing productivity and reducing costs. "It's time to look at the budget differently, to spend it differently to get the desired soutcomes," Kitzhaber said.
Members of the alliance questioned Kitzhaber about keeping decisions dealing with economic development and natural resources at the local level, the possibility of appointing Eastern Oregon residents to decision-making agencies, funding streams, health care, the state's taxing system and veterans' issues.
Pressing the fact that changes need to be made in various areas, Kitzhaber said, "We have to stop looking at the state in two-year increments and look at a 10-year plan. We can't let our future be defined by the past."