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Come on, Kitzhaber, where’s the beef?

If words are food for the mind, then Gov. Kitzhaber’s inaugural address yesterday was a Twinkie, a fluffy lump of empty calories.

There was the obligatory plea for civility and bipartisan cooperation, the expression of concern for rural as well as urban residents, the yearning for a “sense of community,” even a drawn-out salmon metaphor. To be sure, the governor did mention the state’s bleak budget outlook – how could he not? – as well as the need for fundamental changes in the way the state provides services. But Oregonians have heard all of this before on countless occasions.

Anyone who expected Kitzhaber to use his inaugural address to introduce a substantive agenda must have been terribly disappointed. The governor even tiptoed around the defining issue of his predecessor’s final months in office, not to mention last year’s gubernatorial campaign: the soaring cost of public employee pensions and benefits.

We’ve wondered for weeks now whether the New John Kitzhaber would differ at all from the Old John Kitzhaber, who wasn’t known for his willingness to compromise. You don’t earn a nickname like “Dr. No” without displaying a certain amount of ideological rigidity. Well, we’re still wondering.

Presumably, the governor doesn’t want to start a fight with employee unions and other interest groups on his first official day, but he’ll have to do so eventually. Oregonians deserve to know – soon –what, exactly, the governor has in mind.

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