GOP candidate for governor, Bud Pierce, has race to himself - for now
SALEM, Ore. - In a state where being a Republican with low name recognition makes a successful run for statewide office remote, Bud Pierce has one thing going for him at the moment: He's the only person officially running for governor.
On Thursday the 58-year-old Salem cancer doctor could bask in the spotlight as he announced his candidacy for the state's top office in the shadow of the Capitol.
More well-known Republicans, state Rep. Knute Buehler and former U.S. Senate candidate Monica Wehby, dangled their names into the political waters for a brief time but have since reeled in their ambitions for the governor's office, at least for now.
Current governor, Kate Brown, ascended to the office after former Gov. John Kitzhaber resigned last February as a scandal involving his fiance engulfed him like a fire.
While conventional wisdom says Brown will run on her own merits for the office next year, she has yet to make her plans public. And another Democrat, state Treasurer Ted Wheeler, announced Wednesday that he will try to unseat Portland Mayor Charlie Hales. Wheeler's move takes another major political player in the state out of the running for governor.
For the moment, that leaves the field to Bud Pierce. In front of the Capitol Thursday he cast himself as a moderate and a pragmatist.
"I'm a doer. I'm not really much of a talker," he said during his mid-morning announcement with his wife, Selma, and a small handful of supporters standing beside and behind him.
The first-time candidate for elective office touted his strengths for the office by focusing on his experience gained through "a varied and highly successful private life," including his medical practice. And he ticked off his accomplishments in small business, philanthropy and work in nonprofits.
He tried to tap into the frustration that many people have - that something is wrong with government and that the status quo has to go. And like many Republicans in this state, he pointed to the nearly 30-year hold on the governor's office by the Democrats as the root of many of the state's problems.
"Career politicians see life through a political lens - staying in office, and winning the next election at all costs," he said. "They're afraid to make needed changes, because it may cost them politically."
He wants to streamline government by eliminating or consolidating the growing number of boards, commissions and agencies in the state.
"Government has layers and layers of bureaucracy and agencies that really need to be trimmed back," Pierce said.
In 2012 a secretary of state's audit found that there were more than 250 of them in the state. One of the seven recommendations the auditors came up with was a periodic review process to determine which ones should stay and which ones should go. Lawmakers have so far not seriously taken up the issue.
And like many Republicans, Pierce doesn't want government to stand in the way of business. He wants it to simplify the process of starting one.
He also wants to repeal the low-carbon fuel standard that lawmakers approved and Brown signed into law during this year's legislative session. Pierce and other Republicans call it a "hidden gas tax."
The whirlwind of controversy that whipped up around the low-carbon fuel standard during the session first stunted and then killed any hope of lawmakers passing a transportation package for the state this year.
And he wants to fix PERS "once and for all."
In 2013, lawmakers and then Gov. Kitzhaber brokered the so-called "grand bargain" that would have saved the state billions of dollars, primarily by scaling back cost-of-living increases for PERS recipients. But in April the state Supreme Court struck down most of that deal, leaving the state scrambling to figure out how to pay the bill and still fund things like schools. Most of the impact of the court's ruling is expected to start taking effect in 2017.
On Thursday Pierce said there are three ways to fix PERS.
He wants to set the money match annuity to the best market rate, prohibit employees from artificially inflating their salary at the end of their careers to get a better return, and to look at reducing the taxpayer contribution for higher wage earning government employees.
"Obviously, the law has stated that the benefits promised, are the benefits that should be given - that's a moral imperative," he said, which is essentially what the Supreme Court determined.
Pierce grew up in southern California. He's been married to Selma for 34 years and they have two children, daughter, Kristina, 29, and son, Michael, 27.
He attended the University of California in Riverside, received a doctorate and medical degree at the University of California, Los Angeles. He moved to Salem 21 years ago.
The winner of the governor's race will serve out Kitzhaber's remaining two years.
For now the Republican field for the nomination is wide open. The months ahead will determine if this oncologist from Salem retains strong control of it.
Read Bud Pierce's announcement speech (campaign handout)