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Kitzhaber Prepares His Fourth Inauguration Speech

File photo. John Kitzhaber delivers his third inaugural address on January 10, 2011 at the state capitol in Salem.
Colin Fogarty
Northwest News Network
File photo. John Kitzhaber delivers his third inaugural address on January 10, 2011 at the state capitol in Salem.

Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber has until January 12 to put the finishing touches on his inaugural address. But writing the speech should be old hat to the governor.

He's done it three times already.

In January, 1995, Bill Clinton was president. The Oregon unemployment rate was 4.7 percent. And the number one Billboard single was "On Bended Knee" by Boyz II Men.

And in Salem, long-time state lawmaker John Albert Kitzhaber raised his right hand and started his first inaugural address with a you-had-to-be-there joke.

"And of course I want to go home while there's still a little water in the Middle Fork,” he quipped.

Kitzhaber is known for his love of fishing. The Democrat had beaten his Republican opponent by nine points in 1994 to land the governorship for the first time. In his first speech as governor, Kitzhaber quickly outlined his goals for his term and threw in some crowd-pleasing rhetorical flourishes:

"Oregon cannot be a good place for any of us to live until it is a good place for all of us to live,” he said.

Four years later, Kitzhaber easily won re-election. Bill Clinton was still president but was trying to thwart an impeachment. Oregon's unemployment rate had risen to 5.6 percent. And the number one Billboard single in January 1999? "I’m Your Angel" by R. Kelly and Celine Dion.

And John Kitzhaber once again tried to crack an opening joke.

"This is one of the last opportunities I'll have to address this joint assembly before returning to my previous career as a professional wrestler,” he jested.

Kitzhaber was actually an emergency room doctor before he entered politics. During his speech he urged the assembled lawmakers to put aside their partisan differences and work together for the good of the state.

He also made this prediction…which turned out to be completely wrong:

"This will be my last oath of office as governor of the state of Oregon,” he said.

It was a logical assumption since Oregon governors are limited to two consecutive terms in office. But after sitting out of politics for eight years, Kitzhaber ran for -- and won -- an unprecedented third term as the state's chief executive -- beating former NBA player Chris Dudley.

And that brings us to January of 2011. Barack Obama was president. Oregon's unemployment rate was an even 10 percent. And the number one Billboard hit was "Grenade" by Bruno Mars.

John Kitzhaber warmed up the crowd by hinting that everyone would really rather be somewhere else.

"So I guess none of you could get tickets to the game either,” Kitzhaber said, referring to the college football championship, which was set to kick off a few hours later. The University of Oregon Ducks were playing for the national title.

By sheer coincidence, the exact same thing is happening this year. Kitzhaber will take the oath near mid-day, and the Ducks will play in the college football championship game just hours later.

So will the governor re-use his opening joke? Well, as Kitzhaber himself put it during his first inaugural address 20 years ago, ”It's difficult to say anything that hasn't been said before."

As Kitzhaber takes office this time around, Barack Obama is still president. Oregon's unemployment rate has leveled off at 7 percent. And Taylor Swift is atop the billboard charts.

Copyright 2015 Northwest News Network

Chris Lehman
Chris Lehman graduated from Temple University with a journalism degree in 1997. He landed his first job less than a month later, producing arts stories for Red River Public Radio in Shreveport, Louisiana. Three years later he headed north to DeKalb, Illinois, where he worked as a reporter and announcer for NPR–affiliate WNIJ–FM. In 2006 he headed west to become the Salem Correspondent for the Northwest News Network.