UO and the Emerald interview Gov. Kitzhaber
“I grew up in an era where people actually believed in government,” Governor John Kitzhaber said toward the beginning of his speech on January 22 at University of Oregon.
Kitzhaber was speaking to a collection of UO political science students, Wayne Morse scholarship recipients and student government representatives.
The governor described watching Robert Kennedy’s 1968 presidential campaign as a young man. Kennedy “asked profound but uneasy questions”: Questions about inequities and disparities in wage and joblessness that still existed in America. Kennedy’s campaign only lasted 82 days before he was shot in Los Angeles.
Nowadays, people don’t believe that government can help as much anymore.
“Today, things are a little more ambiguous,” Kitzhaber said. “Problems are more complicated.”
The governor laid out his vision for 2015: By most measurements, Oregon is doing incredibly well in economy. In GDP, Oregon had the fifth-fastest growing economy in the United States; in jobs, Oregon has “made up all the jobs we lost” in the recession.
But does that translate into the wellbeing of Oregonians? Kitzhaber said it doesn’t.
While Oregon workers are more productive than ever, many are stuck in part-time work and ethnic minorities have drastically high levels of unemployment. One in five children in the state are still living in poverty, Kitzhaber said.
Kitzhaber said that his goal for 2015 was to ask those questions.
“If we can ask those questions and if we’re willing to hold as our common purpose… I am absolutely convinced that we can figure it out,” Kitzhaber said.
Kitzhaber’s appearance at UO is timely, considering the presidents of Oregon’s public universities signed a letter just last month criticizing Kitzhaber’s new higher education budget. The Emerald asked Kitzhaber what he would say to students who wonder why tuition is higher than ever and the state isn’t helping.
“There’s no question that Oregon and a lot of states have disinvested in higher education,” Kitzhaber said. “So I think we have to put this in the context of where we were four years ago in 2011 and we are much closer now than we were. So we have to continue to reinvest in postsecondary education.”
The Emerald also asked what advice Kitzhaber would give to UO students.
“I would say that it’s very important… to be directly engaged in public policy,” Kitzhaber said. “They’re going into a very uncertain job market, where a lot of people graduate with great credentials but they can’t find a job, and I think public engagement is going to be as important for this generation as it was to mine.”
Helena Schlegel, a Wayne Morse scholar and Student member of the Board of Trustees for the university, said the governor is showing that he’s willing to work with students to address these issues.
“It showed one of his priorities this term is higher education–student issues,” Schlegel said. Schlegel was not speaking on behalf of the Board.
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