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Running the pick-and-roll for Oregon governor

Oregon State Capitol Credit: Wikipedia

Allen Alley walked 400 miles across Oregon in September and feels mighty fit for his campaign for Oregon governor in 2010.

Wouldn’t you know it, now there’s a 6-foot-11 former NBA basketball player in the race as well, figuring to tower over Alley literally and also in the vital race for news coverage. Chris Dudley, more known for rebounds than 3-point shots as a Portland Trailblazer, went for the long shot Wednesday, formally entering the Republican primary with a load of cash and no political baggage as Republicans hope to regain an office they haven’t held since 1986.

Dudley, who played 16 years in the basketball bigs, including two stints with the Trailblazers, poses a huge contrast to the two prominent Democrats in the race, former Gov. John Kitzhaber and former Secretary of State Bill Bradbury. Both men have deep experience in Oregon politics; but, beyond his personal foundation, Dudley hasn’t run anything more complex than a pick-and-roll.

He joins a race with Alley, a former tech-company CEO who ran a credible race for state treasurer in 2008; longtime initiatives entrepreneur Bill Sizemore, who hopes to escape conviction on tax-evasion in order to run again against Kitzhaber, who pounded him in 1998; former legislator John Lim of Gresham; and several others interested in the open seat. Democratic Gov. Ted Kulongoski is term-limited after eight years.

Dudley’s official NBA biography describes, “Rugged center Chris Dudley is consistently one of the NBA’s better rebounders and shotblockers — and one of its worst free throw shooters.” Dudley was with Portland in 1993-97 and again in 2001-03. In his Portland years, Dudley was a community activist and built a foundation for youth with disabilities and sponsored basketball camps for young diabetics. Dudley is diabetic, one of the few professional basketball players to play with the disease.

Dudley is not your average basketball star; he came from a prominent family (his grandfather, Guilford Dudley, was an insurance company president and ambassador to Denmark under Presidents Nixon and Ford), and Chris Dudley graduated from Yale with degrees in economics and political science. While he’s not Bill Bradley (on the court or in politics), he is a rare combination of athletic prowess, a first-rate education, and an upbringing in politics and community service. But his life has been lived among the elite in terms of family, university, and careers in pro sports and wealth-management; his ability to connect with average Oregon voters will be tested.

In the Republican primary, Dudley will need to walk a fine line between the right-wing rhetoric that has overtaken the party faithful in the last 20 years and the moderate positions of Republicans who dominated Oregon’s governorship from World War II until 1986. His views on major issues — including two tax measures that appear on a special ballot in January — are obscure, although Wednesday’s announcement offered a glimpse of his campaign.

“I believe it is a strength, not a weakness, that I have not spent the last 30 years in politics,” Dudley said. He also announced opposition to the two January tax measures that are intended to balance the state budget.

Dudley will have money, some of it coming from his long NBA career. Earlier this month he announced raising $340,000 in an exploratory effort, including a $100,000 donation from his sports agent and $50,000 from his employer, a wealth-management fund in Lake Oswego. Dudley’s association with wealth management, not a popular link in Oregon’s depressed economy, could help him in a primary but provide a target against a well-known Democrat.

Finances could close out other Republicans who are still considering the race, including Rep. Bruce Hanna of Roseburg, the House minority leader who has allies in the business community.

Lack of political experience will cut both ways for Dudley; Oregonians haven’t elected a governor without at least legislative experience since 1938. Although this year of discontent clearly raises the prospects of an anti-politician campaign, Alley has already staked out some of that turf.

Democrats will offer experience to spare with either Kitzhaber or Bradbury. Both brought years of legislative experience into their statewide offices, and both served the maximum two terms, as governor and secretary of state, respectively; Bradbury actually served nine years; he was appointed to the office in 1999 by Kitzhaber, then elected to a pair of full terms. That appointment underscores the closeness of the careers of Kitzhaber and Bradbury; both came from southwest Oregon rural districts and both are strong environmentalists. In the Oregon Senate, Bradbury was Kitzhaber’s majority leader. But both men have histories and records that Republicans will exploit.

Bradbury, an effervescent Hubert Humphrey-style campaigner, cannot avoid his obvious affliction with multiple sclerosis, as he uses an electric cart and a cane. The disease, diagnosed in 1981 but not obvious until recent years, is known to sap energy and to be progressive. Bradbury also has a history of supporting liberal causes for years, including the tax measures in January.

Kitzhaber, a physician, has name recognition from his former governorship, but he also made enemies during a constant struggle with a Republican-dominated Legislature. There are also deep wounds from his 1992 campaign when he forced Gov. Barbara Roberts from a re-election bid, and Roberts — a favorite of Oregon liberals — has already boosted Bradbury’s candidacy. A nasty primary between two old friends would be a Republican delight.

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