Oregon Gubernatorial Candidate Ted Kulongoski Responds:

I believe we need a strong and diversified manufacturing base not only as a source of good jobs for American workers but as a means to innovation and growth for the American economy.  We cannot allow ourselves to become a service economy dependent on other countries for manufactured products, because manufacturing leads the way to so many of the technological advances and productivity improvements that are critical to our prosperity. 

Oregon’s wood products industry is an example of these advances, as our mills now use high-tech processes that are able to extract more, higher-quality lumber from our harvested timber.  Jobs in the mills are becoming more challenging than ever before, and our mill workers more productive, as this industry modernizes with technology. 

Similarly, jobs in the aerospace industry, such as those at the Boeing plant in Gresham, are on the cutting edge of technological change and challenge, and I am proud that Boeing and so many of its suppliers have chosen to maintain production here in Oregon. 

Oregon’s economy has always been highly dependent on manufacturing.  But when I took office in January 2003, Oregon and the U.S. were hemorrhaging jobs in almost all sectors of manufacturing.  During the previous five years (1998-2002), Oregon had lost one-seventh of our manufacturing jobs.  I am proud to say that we have since become one of the few states in the nation to reverse this trend – registering an increase of almost 10% in manufacturing jobs during my first term in office.

We are a small state contending with a rapidly changing and ruthlessly competitive global economy.  But there are things we have done in Oregon that can serve as a model for state-based efforts to support manufacturing jobs.

We have reoriented our land-use and planning functions to ensure that Oregon has more shovel-ready land ready for industrial development.  We have streamlined our regulations to eliminate red tape and speed up the process of approving sites for factories and warehouses.  We have invested heavily in upgrading our transportation systems, from roads and bridges to ports and railways.  And we have offered assistance to good employers to maximize the resources that Oregon has to offer them – including, at the top of that list of resources, our skilled workers.

I wish I could say that that there is a one-to-one relationship between jobs lost and jobs regained, but the truth is that many of the manufacturing jobs we lost in the tumultuous changes that buffeted our economy may be gone for good.   But the skilled workers who performed those jobs are still with us, and their skills, experience and abilities remain our greatest asset.  This is why I have devoted so much attention to job training and retraining programs as the key to attracting and retaining good employers and the means to enable workers to navigate the changes in the global economy.

Finally, I do not believe that that we have to accept the hand we are dealt by the global economy.  Much of the damage done to our manufacturing base in this country is the result of unfair trade deals and tax policies which encourage and reward the export of good jobs overseas.  This is why, as governor of Oregon, I have used my position to promote fair trade policies that can support and sustain good jobs in our country and here in Oregon, especially manufacturing jobs.  And, where opportunities arise to affect our nation’s trade policies, I have been quick to take them.  For example, on several occasions, I told the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to disassociate Oregon from provisions in new trade agreements that would limit our ability to use our state’s purchasing power to reward local employers. 

Our future prosperity and the viability of our middle class depend in great measure on the durability of our manufacturing base, our ability to sustain a skilled workforce and our success in protecting and promoting good jobs that reward productivity and innovation.  I will continue working with your union to keep our manufacturing sector competitive, successful and growing.

Oregon is typical of the rest of the country in that fewer than one-third of our adults have a four-year, college degree.  But many of these adult workers are highly-skilled, highly-productive and essential to the strength of our economy.  As I noted above, up-to-date job skills are critical to our success in the world economy, especially in the manufacturing sector.

I am a great believer in the value of a post-secondary education, but I also recognize that four-year degrees are not the only measure of skill and productivity.  As I noted in my State of the State address earlier this year:

“We face… [a] dangerous mismatch between the outdated skills many Oregon workers possess – and the updated skills many Oregon employers are looking for.  Repairing the skills gap is the only way we will build the Oregon Dream – because it is the only way we can keep our best young minds and strongest young hands in Oregon, while creating family wage jobs and long-term economic growth.

“[M]any high school graduates are not looking for a college degree.  They want a marketable skill that will lead to a high-wage job.  I can’t say this enough:  To keep Oregon competitive in the global economy, we must have engineers and electricians; scientists and technicians; inventors and builders.”
This is why, with help from our labor and business partners, I created Oregon’s first Manufacturing Workforce Strategy – and invested one million dollars to get the strategy off the ground.  Our focus is to provide Oregonians with the skills they need to find the jobs they want.  This issue is not going away.  And neither is my determination to align the job goals of our workers with the job opportunities of tomorrow.

Your union’s proposal for high-tech institutes in every state fits perfectly with my commitment to advance our manufacturing workforce strategy and to direct more of our job-training funds to these purposes.

Social Security & Medicaid/Medicare:
Much of what needs to be done to keep the promise of Social Security and Medicaid/Medicare for our retirees and the baby boomers who will soon be following them into retirement must be accomplished at the federal level.

I strongly opposed President Bush’s proposals to create private Social Security accounts for current workers.  Such an attempt would have fragmented the system, worsened its financial problems and threatened benefits for future retirees.

I also believe that the Bush administration sided with the big drug companies over working families when they enacted a Medicare prescription drug plan that barred the federal government from negotiating better drug prices for Medicare beneficiaries.  I have and will continue to support using the purchasing power of our government to demand better prices for medications.  Where the states are free to pursue these approaches on our own, as is the case with Medicaid, I have taken the lead in expanding our bulk-purchasing pool to bring down the price of medications for seniors, children, the disabled and working families without health insurance who are covered by our Oregon Health Plan.

Finally, for our state and local government employees, I convinced the legislature to back off on attempts to convert our existing defined-benefit pension plan to a defined-contribution 401k-style plan.  I am strong believer in defined-benefit pension plans as the best way to ensure economic security for working people.

There is no “battle” I would rather join than the battle for a comprehensive national health insurance plan.  It’s a battle that was first joined by Harry Truman over 60 years ago and one that has stymied some of our best political leaders ever since.  But it is a battle we have to win, because a national plan is the only viable long-term solution to the health care crisis that burdens employers and working families in this country.  This crisis worsens every day despite the best efforts of our unions and employers.  Let’s face it, we are all struggling to maintain a failing system.

That said, we cannot wait for the Congress to solve this problem, as health care costs spiral out of control, more employers are reducing or abandoning health insurance for their workers, and fewer workers are able to afford medial care when they need it.  There are meaningful actions that states can take to make health care more affordable for workers and their employers.  At the top of this list are the kinds of bulk-purchasing efforts I described above – using our purchasing power to demand and get better prices from the pharmaceutical industry.  I would like to see our bulk-purchasing efforts extended to include employers who wish to join them. Also, I have proposed a plan to guarantee health care for all children in Oregon by using tax revenues from tobacco sales combined with federal matching funds.  It is unacceptable that we have so many children without health care and without access to affordable preventive care, especially when most of these children are in households with full-time working adults. Creating health care access for all Oregonians will help to reduce costs by eliminating unreimbursed expenses that are currently passed on to the government and consumers.  Finally, to help control health insurance premiums for employers and workers alike, I would support more regulatory scrutiny of premium rate increases by insurance companies. 

For all the money that we spend on health care in this country, we should be able to guarantee coverage to all of our citizens and provide better treatment at lower costs with better outcomes than we do today.  I look forward to working with your union at the state and federal level to accomplish this.  Social Security and Medicare were the legacy of the generation that preceded us in America’s workplaces.  Universal health care can and should be the legacy of our generation before we enter our retirement years. 

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