Kulongoski holds final news conference

SALEM — Gov. Ted Kulongoski bounded through the door and went straight to a podium in his ceremonial office at the state Capitol.

"Thank you for joining me," he said Friday to television cameras and a row of reporters, beginning a ritual he's performed dozens, maybe hundreds of times before. But this one was different. It was Kulongoski's final press conference after eight years as governor and four decades as a public official in Oregon.

It also was most likely Kulongoski's last public statements as governor. He will not give a speech when John Kitzhaber is sworn in to replace him at noon on Monday.

"Monday, in my opinion, is about the next governor and the next four years of leadership," Kulongoski said. "If I haven't said all I want to say by Monday morning, then shame on me."

In a wide-ranging, 40-minute talk, the governor said he's enjoyed his career in government because he's been able to help make people's lives better. He said he'll take a month or two off after leaving office before diving into another job that serves the public good. He wasn't sure yet what that job will be.

"This isn't a goodbye," he said. "It's just for me to say to you we will see each other again."

He decried the state's system of electing judges as well as the growing influence of campaign money in judicial races, saying impartial judges and public trust in the judiciary are bedrock principles that allow for a stable democracy.

Big-money judicial campaigns invite questions about whether judges are truly impartial or beholden to their donors. He advocated a change to a system where judges are shielded from regularly campaigning for their jobs.

Among the issues still on his plate, Kulongoski is scheduled to meet Saturday with a man who has requested a pardon. He declined to identify him but said he's already fulfilled his sentence for the crime.

Clemency decisions were among the most difficult Kulongoski had to make during his tenure, he said. He made sure to meet with people who were being seriously considered for a pardon or reduced sentence, giving them an opportunity to explain directly to him why they believed they were deserving.

Kulonogski said he could've done a better job communicating with the public on what he was doing, and he'd love to leave office with a booming economy and a budget surplus. But he said he's proud of the state's new investments in transportation.

Despite its challenges, Kulongoski said, Oregon has advanced during the last eight years.

"You want to believe you made Oregon a better place for the people, and I beleive we did," he said.

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