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Jobs Watch: The Alley and Dudley show

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Ben Jacklet
Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Allen Alley and Chris Dudley are both running for governor on a platform of cutting government spending, improving Oregon’s business climate and creating jobs in the private sector. They have many ideas in common. They also have their differences.

For starters, there is the first impression they give. Dudley isn’t just tall; he is huge, to the point where it seems like there is an exceedingly far distance for his thoughts to travel before he can articulate them with his Connecticut Yankee accent. His responses come out slow and measured, putting him at a distinct disadvantage at any forum involving a stopwatch. But anyone who writes off this 16-year veteran of the National Basketball Association as a dumb jock or a figurehead is not paying attention. Dudley is a Yale graduate who fiercely represented the NBA players’ association and went straight from basketball to philanthropy and business, serving as executive VP for Portland-based M Financial, one of the state’s largest private companies by gross revenue. He may not be winning the debates but he has been winning the fundraising race, and that could prove more important.

Alley, by contrast, is small (at least when standing next to Dudley), quick, sharp and extremely intense. Ideas and plans pour out of his mouth fully formed and richly detailed. You can almost hear his engine humming as he powers through blunt criticisms and ideas for reform. The energy and smarts that served him well in the private sector also have propelled him to victory in several debates against Dudley. Alley was born in Michigan, graduated from Purdue, and worked for Ford before moving out to Oregon and delving into tech, co-founding Pixelworks in 1997. He has a proven record of raising capital and creating jobs, and he also has some experience in state government, though not much, having served briefly as a deputy chief of staff under Governor Kulongoski.

Alley has been deeply critical of Kulongoski and the Democratic status quo in Oregon since leaving Salem to run first for state treasurer (losing to Ben Westlund) and now for governor. By his count the state legislature has passed 10,000 bills over the past 24 years, and not one of them was a job creator. “Every bill is another rule, another regulation, another tax, another fee,” he told a room full of business leaders at the Multnomah Athletic Club yesterday afternoon. Rather than scrambling for new tax dollars during the recession, Alley believes the state should have “done what every business leader in Oregon did,” freezing salaries, cutting management positions and controlling wasteful spending. By his calculation, state spending shot up by 49% over the past four years. Government is “not treating you like customers,” he told the pro-business crowd at the MAC club. “They’re treating you like an ATM machine.”

Dudley seems equally incensed about public spending, but there is a specific difference in how he intends to respond. It may seem ironic given his past work for a players union that negotiated lucrative (some might argue obscene) salaries for professional basketball players, but Dudley says he is ready to take on the state’s powerful public employee union with a clear message that workers resistant to negotiating their benefits risk “pricing themselves out of a job.”

Alley disagrees. He says his ideas about unions come from his experience at Ford, where management blamed the union for everything when the real problem was lack of innovation. He praises state workers and says the main problem is that they are “massively under-led and massively under-controlled.” The way he sees it, the governor’s hands will be tied on existing pensions, so a better strategy for cutting costs would involve being more careful about future hires while looking at the state budget as a whole for cuts, including the $40 billion that gets “squirreled away” outside of the general fund.

Another difference between Dudley and Alley involves international trade. Dudley argues that it is important for the governor to travel overseas occasionally to reverse the dangerous perception that Oregon has a poor business climate. Alley says he doesn’t think it’s worth the resources. “I want you guys going to Asia,” he told business leaders. “I don’t want the governor going to Asia… I’m sorry. I don’t need another sister city. I need another sister company,” referring to lucrative partnerships Pixelworks formed with Epson, Toshiba and other Asian businesses.

Whether you agree or disagree with Alley, you can probably tell from his sarcastic tone regarding Asian sister cities that his comments can tend to sharpen to an edge. At one point during the debate, he related with obvious enthusiasm the advice he had received from Linda Lingle, the scrappy Republican governor of overwhelmingly Democratic Hawaii. Lingle's advice: veto with impunity and force the opposition to come up with a two-thirds vote to override it, and stack the “coffee and donuts” boards and commissions in your favor. Alley’s edge emerged again in his closing remarks, when he said he wanted to be the state’s CEO: not just the chief executive officer, but also the “chief excitement officer” and the “chief environment officer—not critters and bugs,” mind you, but the real environment, i.e., the business environment. Writing off environmental concerns in ultra-green Oregon as “critters and bugs” may have consequences for Alley, or it may not.

Dudley couldn’t differ more in this respect. When he referred to former Governor John Kitzhaber’s past comments about Oregon being “ungovernable,” his distaste seemed powerful but reserved. Shaking his head, Dudley pledged that he would “never throw a tantrum” and “never throw in the towel” as governor, and while sports metaphors generally do not serve political candidates well, the combination of Dudley’s obvious sincerity and his record of 16 years as a class act in a professional sports league filled with prima donnas and brats lent new meaning to the clichés.

Given the sharp stylistic differences between these two candidates, it makes sense that the congenial Dudley has an edge in fundraising while the scrappy Alley scores well in head-to-head debates. As for their policy ideas, I recommend checking out Dudley’s jobs first plan and Alley’s "imagine Oregon" webpage.

Ben Jacklet is managing editor of Oregon Business Magazine.
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