Our newest truth-telling tool: The Kitz-O-Meter
By Ryan Kost
Published on Friday, January 7th, 2011 at 12:48 p.m.
John Kitzhaber did a lot of talking to win his historic third term as Oregon's governor. He talked about health care and transportation, about the environment and state budget.
If elected governor, he told Oregonians in printed statements, televised commercials and live speeches, he would stabilize education spending, he would plan a budget for the long term, he would create an "energy savings bonds" program, he would diversify his staff.....
The list goes on. It goes on for 30 more promises, to be exact.
In the weeks since Kitzhaber was elected, The Oregonian's reporters for PolitiFact Oregon have combed through his speeches, debates, position papers and other sources and pulled together a list of the promises he made. After all was said and done, we had a list of 34.
For the next four years, PolitiFact Oregon will track Kitzhaber's progress in keeping those promises. To do that, today we launch the Kitz-O-Meter. The meter will rate whether a promise is kept, broken, in the works or stalled. It will also note compromises. The meter is based on PolitiFact national's Obameter and recently launched GOP Pledge-O-Meter.
We'll be sure and lay blame where it belongs. Just because Kitzhaber wants something done, doesn't mean the Legislature will always be willing to help. That said, if the Legislature blocks a key promise, it's still a promise broken.
You can get to the Kitz-O-Meter either by following the link on the right-hand side of our home page, picking the 'promises' tab on the red menu at the top of our site, or by clicking here. If you want to read more about the specifics of the Kitz-O-Meter and what our rulings mean, you can find that information here.
The promises we're tracking run the gamut, though two key issues have emerged: state finances and education.
On the finance side, Kitzhaber has proposed and promised major changes. He says he'll lay out a 10-year budget for the state, reform the kicker law, create a robust rainy day fund, cut social services, push for a capital gains tax break and veto any tax increases that are meant only to balance the upcoming 2011-2013 budget.
On education, he's pledged to make funding more stable, eliminate redundancies in standardized testing, expand magnet schools, shift state funding to match student achievement and create a new "Oregon Diploma."
Other topics included oil drilling, an energy and climate change plan, habitat restoration and the health care reform law.
The promise-making was intentional, said Amy Wojcicki, a spokeswoman for the Kitzhaber transition team. The governor-elect, she said, is already working to fold some of those proposals into his budget, due by Feb. 1. "His goal is to create step-by-step realistic plans to accomplish these proposals."
Bob Tiernan, the outgoing chairman of Oregon Republican Party, doesn't have much faith Kitzhaber will be able to keep all his promises. Particularly dubious, he said, is the pledge that Kitzhaber won't let the Legislature raise taxes to balance the 2011-2013 budget.
Either way, Tiernan thinks now, more than ever, politicians can't afford to be cynical about the promises they make or whether voters will notice if they follow through. "Especially with all the new technology" -- think social networking and blogs -- "when a politician says something, they're going to be held much more accountable in the years ahead than they ever have."
Campaign promises are interesting things, says Bill Lunch, chairman of the political science department at Oregon State University. "By and large, Americans are very cynical and don't really expect their politicians to succeed."
So why do politicians keep making promises? Often times, they're effective at winning votes in the heat of the moment, he said, even if voters don't remember them long after the election. Well, our memories are working just fine, so stay tuned for updates on whether Oregon's governor is making good on his many words.
We want to hear your suggestions and comments. Email the Oregon Truth-O-Meter with feedback and with claims you'd like to see checked. If you send us a comment, we'll assume you don't mind us publishing it unless you tell us otherwise.