The campaign of Greg Wooldridge is soaring as he shares with Oregonians how the leadership skills he learned during 27 years of Navy service — including a world tour as commanding officer of the Blue Angels precision aerobatic team — can create a more efficient and accountable government.
“Trust and clear expectations are key,” said the gubernatorial candidate, who brought his message to The Dalles Tuesday evening. He met with a group of community members at Spooky’s Pizza, one of his many campaign stops in rural Oregon.
“I’ve never been elected, but I’ve been selected on numerous occasions to high profile positions based on leadership and accomplishment,” said Wooldridge, who held the rank of Navy captain, the equivalent of a colonel in other branches of the armed forces.
His call signs as lead pilot with the high-performance Angel team was “Wizard.” At times during aerial acrobatics, he said the planes were traveling 400 miles per hour and only 36 inches apart so one wrong move would have been disastrous.
“That was all about trust,” he said.
He is the only commanding officer to lead the Angels on three separate tours. In addition, recognition of his leadership skills led the Pentagon to place Wooldridge in charge of Naval Air Station Lemoore in California, the top master jet base.
There were about 4,000 inhabitants on the base, which the same services and shopping facilities as a small city, in addition to an airport. Wooldridge had to manage a “couple billion” in assets and said “the buck stopped with me” when it came to finding solutions to challenges.
In 1995, the base was named the top Navy base in the world and earned the President’s Installation Excellence Award.
“This is my last call of duty and I’m so ready,” Wooldridge said about his candidacy. “I believe we can right this ship by stopping the backroom dealings and political cronyism running rampant in Salem.”
Wooldridge, 71, is one of nine Republican candidates in the gubernatorial race against incumbent Democrat Kate Brown. Other Democrats seeking to unseat Brown are Ed Jones of Redmond and Candace Neville of Eugene.
GOP candidates include: Knute Buehler of Bend; Sam Carpenter of Bend; Bruce Cuff of Lyons; Jonathan Edward III of Gresham; Brett Hyland of Portland; Jeff Smith of Elgin; David Stauffer of Portland; and Jack Tracy of Lebanon.
The Democrat and Republican that win the May 15 primary election will face off in the Nov. 6 general election.
Patrick Starnes of Brownsville, an Independent, is also in the race.
Wooldridge did not decide to seek a political office until February and said his decision was based on the belief that he offered the best choice of leadership.
He has hit the ground running and said, despite the late start, his “common sense” message has found him gaining ground on front runner Buehler.
“People are looking for leadership, for a change in the way Oregon governs,” he said.
He parallels his run for governor to the lessons he took away from a distinguished military career.
It all begins with starting and ending each day with gratitude and a strong sense of purpose -- dedicating your energy to a cause greater than yourself, he said.
Leaders need to have a “center point” from which to operate, said Wooldridge, and that can be abstract as well as physical.
In the Angels, there was a geographical marker that kept everyone flying straight and they never forgot that they served as ambassadors of goodwill for the Navy.
“When we debriefed after a flight, the sense of gratitude changed our paradigm,” said Wooldridge. “As commander, I would say how I thought things went and what I did wrong. I would then say, “I’ll fix it” and every member of the team did the same. There was no finger pointing, no punishment or fear. That’s how trust works,” he said.
His campaign platform is based on the four “C’s” that have defined his career: Competence, Character, Commitment and Consistency.
He believes the four words can be readily applied to these issues:
• Cutting red tape and a “cumbersome bureaucratic process” to create more jobs with economic growth.
“Oregon’s crippling regulations and over-burdensome tax policies will no longer be an albatross around the necks of hard working families and businesses,” said Wooldridge.
• Reforming the tax code to be simple and fair for hard working families and small businesses. Taxation is one of the areas where Oregon ranks in the bottom 10 of states, he said.
“Niche taxes like a sales tax on cars, a sales tax on health insurance and gross receipts are several of the bad ideas that continue to make Oregon less competitive,” said Wooldridge.
• Improving the state’s education system to provide a bright and competitive future for children. Currently, Oregon K-12 system is ranked 44th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia, said Wooldridge.
“This is unacceptable,” he said. “We must ensure that the funding for our education system goes directly into classrooms and not political paybacks. Without reforms, the dollars will continue to be wasted and the results will continue to be unacceptable.”
• Government departments will function under the “sunshine” of accountability.
“I want to see the funds of all state agencies audited to ensure taxpayer dollars aren’t being wasted. That will rebuild trust between the government and those that fund the government,” said Wooldridge.
• The rule of law needs to be respected by repealing “sanctuary state“ status that could result in the federal government withholding funds that are needed to provide essential services, he said.
In addition, the governor needs to respect the will of voters. In 2014, Oregon voters rejected giving alternative driver’s license to illegal immigrants by a margin of nearly 70 percent. Yet Brown and the Democratic majority in Salem approved House Bill 4111, which allows the DMV to renew and replace licenses for DACA and temporarily protected sttus recipients.
“The current administration’s audacity in once again circumventing the will of the people must be stopped,” said Wooldridge.
• Environmental policies must responsibly balance the needs of an ever-expanding population with the preservation of beauty that is uniquely Oregon’s. He said that best done through healthy, well-managed forests that reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires.
“Every year, hundreds of thousands of acres of our forests in Oregon burn – more carbon is released into the air from these riles than from all the vehicular emission in the Pacific Northwest,” said Wooldridge. “This is unacceptable. We can manage forests in a way that allows us to manufacture a product, puts Oregonians to work in family wage jobs and creates wealth for rural communities.”
• Oregon’s stringent land use polities have led to an artificial restriction on developable land, which has created a housing shortage by inflating prices and kept first-time buyers out of the real estate market.
“Home ownership is a great opportunity for working families to establish a secure financial future and also provides a stable school funding source,” said Wooldridge.
• The Legislature must address the unfunded liability of the public employee retirement system, which is currently $25 billion.
“Without addressing this unfunded liability, public employees, their children and the state cannot truly be assured of the system’s solvency,” said Wooldridge. “An unstable system robs critical services, such as education and modernization of infrastructure, of scarce resources. We can do better than this.”
• Voters passed Measure 96 in 2016 to dedicate 1.5 percent of net proceeds from the Oregon Lottery to veteran services. To date, Gov. Brown and the Democratic leadership have failed to fund the will of the people, said Wooldridge.
“As a veteran I am very aware of the difficulties that our military faces when they return home from combat and state government should not make that transition more difficult,” he said.
A political conservative, Wooldridge is pro-life and protective of Second Amendment rights.
His “wing man” during his first tour with the Blue Angels, from 1990 to 1992, was Lieutenant Commander John “Gucci” Foley. Today, they are partners in a consulting firm that provides motivational and uplifting support to companies, agencies and organizations.
After retiring from the military in 1997, Wooldridge flew for FedEx for 12 years before joining Foley in their current enterprise.
Wooldridge came to Oregon 12 years ago out of a love for its natural beauty. He had gotten a glimpse of the scenic landscape from the air during two air shows in the early 1990s.
He makes his home in southwest Portland.
“Oregonians are wonderful: polite, industrious and hardworking – they get it done,” he said.