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Something has gone awry in the race for Oregon governor: What we thought would be an electrifying referendum on the state’s future has been sidetracked by someone who’s not even running for the job.

Yes, the person who’s had the biggest role in shaping the tone of the race has been the current governor, Ted Kulongoski, and he can’t run again because of term limits.

It was the report from Kulongoski’s “Reset Cabinet” back in June that laid out the fundamental problem facing state government over the next decade:

State expenditures over that time are projected to considerably outpace revenues, to the tune of perhaps $10 billion. In fact, estimates for the next two-year budget period have pegged the projected deficit at more than $3 billion.

At the time the Reset Cabinet issued its report, we expressed hope that it would pave the way for a thoughtful, sober discussion about how Republican Chris Dudley and Democrat John Kitzhaber would face the challenge of fundamentally overhauling state government to face this new era.

That hasn’t happened. Maybe we were naïve to think that it would. Well, OK, we were naïve.

But we still are disappointed that neither campaign has truly risen to what admittedly is a stark and difficult challenge.

With that said, one of these men will get the opportunity to grapple with the state’s budget challenges.

We think Kitzhaber is in the better position to do that, and he earns the endorsement of the Gazette-Times.

Kitzhaber’s two previous terms as governor, stormy as they were as he dealt with Republican-controlled legislatures, give him a crucial advantage in Salem.

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He knows how state government works, and that experience will be valuable as he decides how it should be restructured.

We also believe Kitzhaber will be in a better position than Dudley when it comes time to begin sensitive and difficult negotiations with the unions that represent state employees.

There’s always a certain appeal to the idea of turning to an outsider to run the show, and Dudley — an intelligent and charismatic candidate — has made the most of that appeal.

But these are times when experience counts, and Kitzhaber has that experience — and our endorsement in the governor’s race.

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