Think Out Loud

Oregon GOP Gubernatorial Candidate Allen Alley 'Does The Math'

By Allison Frost (OPB)
April 12, 2016 7 p.m.
Republican Allen Alley is running for governor in the May 17 primary.

Republican Allen Alley is running for governor in the May 17 primary.

Allen Alley campaign


It’s been almost 34 years since a Republican was elected governor of Oregon. Allen Alley thinks he's the one that could change that.

The engineer and tech executive announced his primary bid last month, a day before the filing deadline. He's previously made unsuccessful runs for Oregon treasurer in 2008 and governor in 2010.

Alley told "Think Out Loud" host Dave Miller that he made the decision to run this year when he was celebrating his 4-year-old grandson's birthday and thinking about the state's dismal high school graduation rate. Alley says Oregon's school years are shorter than most of the rest of the country.

Allen Alley: And we spend about $400,000 per classroom. So one of the things metaphorically, is let's put the money in the classroom first. Because right now, it kind of flows through Salem and flows through education service districts and principals until finally it gets into the classroom. If you put $400,000 in the classroom and let the teacher and the parents decide, how much to you pay the teacher, what technology do you want in the classroom, you're going to spend about $100-$125,000. Have $250,000 dollars left over.

Let the overhead come in and pitch on why do we need a curriculum coordinator, why do we need the education service district coordinator, and then fund them out of that, I think what you'd find is you'd have more money in the classroom than what we have today ... What I'm talking about is a fundamental change in the way that we look at this. This is the type of thing that a leader, governor should do — is to break a paradigm, and get people to think of it differently.

Dave Miller: Why do you think that hasn't happened yet?

AA: I don't think anybody ever did the math. This is what astounds me. And I've been on this show talking about this. And we're not talking about calculus. We're talking about addition, subtraction and usually division, to get to these kinds of numbers. And the numbers are so complex and so obfuscated ... and I don't think anybody ever did the simple math.

DM: Why are you the right person to do this? What would make you the right person to overhaul the state's K-12 system in a way that works?


AA: Maybe because I am an engineer, and I do the math. And I'm very curious about these things, right? One of the things I learned when I worked in Salem is people don't act irrationally. That structures drive behaviors.

And the other thing is when somebody's acting irrationally I don't understand where their financial incentive is. so I look at things differently. I look at things through a different lens. I do the math and I'm very curious about fundamental structures that are driving behaviors.

DM: But if If I understand you correctly, at the base of what you're saying is that we're wasting money right now. Where is the wrong money going?

AA: That's the question we need to answer.

Alley says one of the things he would do as governor is more budget analysis. He says he'd post the information online and let everyone look at the numbers. He says there's a lot to be learned about what happened with the failed Columbia River Crossing.

AA: The fundamental physics of this is we have a bridge that's about the same size as a bridge that's built in Minnesota or built in California. And those bridges were $600 million to a billion dollars, a car bridge. And somehow ours was coming in at what was it, $3 billion dollars. And nobody asked why. Nobody seemed to be curious about why. And when I look at the engineering of it, the why was because we combined cars with light rail.

DM: That's just not true that nobody was asking why ... There were years of debate about that, and finally that's what politicians decided it would be.

AA: What that defined was the physics of the bridge. Which is, you have to flatten it out for light rail, and make it dramatically bigger than if you don't have light rail. As far as I know no one ever articulated that. That it took a several hundred million dollar bridge, and turned it into a three billion dollar bridge. And that debate, I never heard anybody say that debate. It turned into the bridge that ate Portland and Vancouver. And you know, the interesting thing Dave is, that if you could separate the two, and you had a rail bridge with a draw bridge and you had a car bridge, the rail bridge can have a draw bridge because there's only trains about every 15 minutes. You can time it so it doesn't interrupt traffic. Why they ever combined the two - and I think federal funds were one reason and everybody got caught up in it and nobody ever stopped and said, "Wait a minute, this doesn't make any sense!" I think that's what happened.

Alley says state legislators have passed five thousand laws in the last 10 years. He says that's too many, and he favors a bill that would require all laws to have an automatic sunset provision. That way, he says, good bills would be simply renewed and bad bills have to debated and hopefully would not be.

If he were governor he says, Alley would have vetoed a number of bills that came out of the last session, including the minimum wage.

AA: I want everybody to make more money, I want every single Oregonian to be prosperous. And I want us to move up on the personal income scale. The big flaw I saw with that one is that nobody calculated ... what the impact on state budgets is going to be by raising this minimum wage. Because you get what's called compression. When you raise it to $14.75 an hour and you take the SEIU schedule, the bottom seven rungs of the ladder get compressed into one. So now an entry level janitor, makes the same as a physician's assistant, for example. So the first time we have a labor negotiation, they're going to come in and say that's not fair. Physician's assistants shouldn't make that much. so we're going to have to boost them. That boost is about, that could be as much as 30 percent to the entire state payroll ... And that's what happens when you pass massively important legislation in a short session.

Alley says he would have vetoed the minimum wage bill, as well the bill to phase out coal in Oregon by 2030. He says the bill doesn't do enough to reduce CO2 emissions and costs too much.

You can hear the full interview in the audio player at the top of this page. In a separate interview, we also spoke to Alley's opponent in the GOP primary, Salem oncologist Bud Pierce.