EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — State Rep. Dennis Richardson, one of the most visible Republican legislators who is best known as the GOP's go-to lawmaker on budget matters, announced Wednesday that he's running for governor of Oregon.
Richardson is the most prominent candidate so far to jump into the 2014 gubernatorial race. Eastern Oregon rancher Jon Justesen, a Republican, is the only other candidate to announce for governor. Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber said earlier this month that he hasn't decided whether to run for a fourth term.
Richardson, 62, grew up in Los Angeles and flew helicopters for the Army in Vietnam. He settled in Southern Oregon in 1979, was first elected to the Legislature in 2002 and rose to be the co-chairman of the Ways and Means Committee when Republicans shared power with Democrats after the 2010 election.
"Today is a kick off of our movement to give Oregon a future that we can honor, that we can appreciate and that we can give to our children," he told several dozen supporters at a plywood processing plant in Eugene on Wednesday.
Democrats and left-leaning interest groups quickly launched a full-court press after Richardson's announcement Wednesday, contacting reporters to slam Richardson and defend Kitzhaber's record — a strong indication that the governor is leaning toward running for re-election.
"The governor has previously indicated he is considering running for re-election. I believe Mr. Richardson's announcement today is unlikely to be a factor in that decision," said Jillian Schoene, a spokeswoman for Kitzhaber.
Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon highlighted Richardson's opposition to legalized abortion.
"Actions speak louder than words, and the actions that we've seen from Dennis Richardson have been all against climate change and all against the environment," said Doug Moore, director of the Oregon League of Conservation Voters. "(Richardson) may talk a lot, but the leadership from Governor Kitzhaber has been fantastic."
In a statement, Justesen welcomed Richardson to the race and said a contested Republican primary would be good for the state.
Richardson's weekly emails explaining his conservative perspective on public policy debates have endeared him to many Republicans and irritated Democrats. The emails went to a distribution list that Richardson compiled in part by making public records requests of state agencies.
Richardson launched his campaign with rallies in Central Point, Eugene, Bend and Portland on Wednesday. In Eugene, he said Oregon is on the wrong path. He said the government has too many hurdles for businesses to jump and too many barriers to logging in state forests. He said Oregon's education system is failing children.
"We need to renew that spirit of opportunity, of entrepreneurship, of hope for our schools and our businesses in Oregon," Richardson said. "The pioneer spirit is still alive, it's just been kind of dormant."
It won't be an easy go for Richardson. No Republican has been elected governor of Oregon since Vic Atiyeh was re-elected in 1982. Retired professional basketball player Chris Dudley spent more than $10 million in his failed bid for governor.
After his speech, Richardson told reporters he wasn't sure how much a campaign would cost, but he thought would need to raise between $5 million and $10 million.
Richardson said experience in elected office would give him an edge over the GOP's last two nominees for governor: Dudley and Ron Saxton, a businessman. After a decade in the Legislature, he said, he knows how the system works, what has been successful, what has failed and how the budget is prepared.
Dudley and Saxton "did a great job, they are great men, I have tremendous respect for them, I just come with a different resume, with a different set of experience and at a different time," Richardson said.
Richardson and his wife, Cathy Richardson, have nine grown children.
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Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.