Greg Wooldridge is hoping to use his sterling military career to propel him into Oregon’s highest office.
Wooldridge, one of 10 Republicans running for governor in Oregon, visited Hermiston on Friday. If elected, he said he hopes to heal the urban-rural divide, to heal the school systems, the PERS system and the lack of trust in Oregon’s government.
The former Navy captain has never held elected office. But he points to his experience running a naval airbase in the San Joaquin Valley — including services for thousands of families living on-base and billions of dollars in aircraft assets — that earned the Presidential Installation of Excellence Award for being “the best Navy base in the world.”
“It was the same kind of span of control in working with people and trying to get good outcomes and managing a budget,” he said.
He said he is also the only person to serve as flight leader of the Navy’s Blue Angels three different times, working to elevate morale and performance until they were performing 400-mile-per-hour maneuvers 18 inches apart instead of 36 inches.
He later worked with FedEx to elevate the company’s air freight operations and now trains companies on elevating performance. He hopes to elevate the state government’s performance by setting clear expectations for department heads and “bringing the legislature together.”
“I don’t like the term ‘drain the swamp’ because I don’t think there’s a swamp,” he said. “I think they’re good people.”
Wooldridge said beyond holding departments more accountable, he also believes that it would be good for the Democratic-controlled legislature to know that any legislation they pass will be headed to the desk of a Republican governor.
“When they want to get something through, they’re going to have to talk about it,” he said.
At the same time, he said although he holds conservative ideals he is a “realist” about getting things done and doesn’t feel bound to always follow the party line.
Infrastructure, the Public Employees Retirement System and education are Wooldridge’s three main focuses.
He wants to provide the funding to decrease class sizes at the elementary school so that children don’t get frustrated with school early, then follow up with getting more hands-on classes at the high school level that help motivate teens to stay in school and graduate with “labor-ready” skills like welding or computer programming.
Wooldridge said the state also needs to step up its investments in roads, bridges and other transportation infrastructure.
“You can’t move commerce without working infrastructure,” he said.
He also wants to tackle the growing PERS deficit.
“I want to take PERS from a defined benefit to a defined contribution, more like — and this is a dirty word with some of the unions — but more like a 401(k),” he said.
When asked about immigration, Wooldridge said he understood that Oregon depends on immigrant labor for agriculture. But he said the government needed to find ways for those jobs to be filled without a system that encourages people to come into the country illegally and be exploited because of their status. He also said he would work as governor to end Oregon’s sanctuary status.
“I think it’s a public safety issue, because people are being let back on the street that shouldn’t be on the street,” he said.
He also said he’s passionate about improving mental health services. He got choked up recounting a story when he saw a woman standing on the edge of a bridge, preparing to jump. Wooldridge and another passerby managed to pull her down and called the police.
“The Beaverton Police came and they were so good and handled things so well, but that was a wake-up call to me that these issues are out there,” he said.
Wooldridge said despite choosing to settle in the Portland area after the Navy (he grew up in Illinois), he does want to look out for the interests of rural Oregon through supporting agriculture and better management of Oregon’s forests.
“City folks want to enjoy the natural resources in our way and then say nobody else can touch them,” he said.
Wooldridge’s lack of experience as an elected official and his urban address might create some barriers toward winning over rural Republicans in Oregon, but he said he “absolutely” believes that a Republican can beat Governor Kate Brown this year and that he is the one to do it.
Contact Jade McDowell at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-564-4536.