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Former treasurer to challenge governor.

Byline: David Steves The Register-Guard

SALEM - Former state Treasurer Jim Hill entered the Democratic race for governor Tuesday, taking shots at incumbent Gov. Ted Kulongoski for not being a "good Democrat."

Hill's declared candidacy followed decisions by other potential rivals, including former Gov. John Kitzhaber and state Sen. Vicki Walker, D-Eugene, not to challenge Kulongoski for the Democratic nomination.

At a Capitol news conference, Hill accused Kulongoski of letting down his Democratic base of public-sector union workers by approving legislation that curbed their retirement benefits and of breaking his vow to oppose a new casino in the Columbia River Gorge. Hill also said Kulongoski has "been more of a Republican than a Democrat" by appointing a half-dozen Republicans to state agency posts and for voicing support for land use changes that went beyond those of Measure 37.

It's Hill's second attempt to beat Kulongoski for the governor's spot. Hill lost to Kulongoski in an open gubernatorial primary in 2002. At the time, Hill said he thought his political career was over. He received 26 percent of the vote to Kulongoski's 48 percent in the five-candidate Democratic contest.

Hill said he waited until now to enter the May primary race in part because of his growing disenchantment with Kulongoski's performance, which he said has made clear that "Ted has not been a good Democrat."

Filing just one month before the deadline to get into a statewide race, as Hill did, is unusual in this era of costly media campaigns that require months of fundraising. Hill said he did not think that would stymie his efforts.

"It took me a while to decide whether I wanted to climb Mt. Everest again because campaigns are tough," he said. "But what it comes down to is a basic issue: Is there enough time to put together a campaign and win? The answer is absolutely yes."

After running three statewide races, Hill said he thought his name would be familiar enough with voters for him to run a lower-budget campaign than he did four years ago, when he spent almost $488,000. Although he won the endorsement of the Oregon Education Association, Hill at that time received relatively little money from the public-sector unions, which backed Kulongoski. Hill said he would court endorsements and campaign cash this time, partly by pointing out Kulongoski's support for the changes to the Public Employees Retirement System.

Political consultant Gary Conkling said Hill's challenge was heightened by a relatively late entry into the race.

"Unless he has a really attention-grabbing issue, it's going to be very hard," he said. Hill may see PERS reforms as that type of issue, but Conkling said that could be a difficult path for Hill. Public employees may feel betrayed by the governor on PERS, but there's a larger constituency of taxpayers who think the pension reforms were necessary.

Hill became Oregon's first and only African-American to win election to statewide office, becoming state treasurer in 1992 and winning reelection in 1996. Before that, he was a state legislator representing a Salem district.

Hill's two Democratic rivals in this year's Democratic primary both said they planned to continue with their campaign strategies, regardless of the appearance of a third candidate.

"The strategy here is to talk about the governor's strong record of leading Oregon through troubled times," said Cameron Johnson, Kulongoski's campaign manager. He responded to Hill's criticisms of Kulongoski's handling of PERS reforms by saying the governor "tackled a tough problem" in a way that provided "the type of leadership that Oregonians want."

Peter Sorenson acknowledged that Hill's candidacy would divide the anti-Kulongoski votes that would otherwise have gone to himself. However, the Lane County commissioner said his strategy wasn't solely based on attracting protest votes.

"Our real campaign strategy was to get the progressive Democrats in a low-turnout primary to vote for me as being the true blue Democrat in the race," Sorenson said. "That doesn't change at all."
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Title Annotation:Politics; Hill says Kulongoski has let down Democrats in PERS reform and other matters
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Feb 8, 2006
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