Oregon governor John Kitzhaber did his best Jerry “Moonbeam” Brown impersonation last week and traveled to the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, where the Democrat attended a conference focused on the concept of “Gross National Happiness” (GNH).
Bhutan eschews objective measures of national performance—GDP, per capita income, infant mortality—and instead tracks GNH using a formula that accounts for things like “emotional balance,” “spirituality,” “artisan skills,” and “sleeping hours.” It’s a good thing that GNH doesn’t include metrics like “human rights” and “personal freedom,” because the country expelled its Nepali minority—a full fifth of its population—in the 1990s, and is also the only nation in the world to ban smoking completely.
Nevertheless, Governor Kitzhaber carved a full week out of his busy schedule to attend the GNH conference there, even as, according to the Oregonian, “the Legislature is in the middle of a long and intense debate over how to curb the rising cost of the Public Employees Retirement System.”
But not to worry. According to another local news account, “Senate President Peter Courtney and House Speaker Tina Kotek assured the governor his weeklong absence would not interfere with the ongoing legislative session,” which may say more than was intended about lawmakers’ opinion of Kitzhaber’s governing skills.
Kitzhaber is in his third go-round as governor of the Beaver State—he previously served two lackluster terms from 1995 to 2003, ultimately calling the state “ungovernable.” Things aren’t going so well this time around either, with Oregon facing yawning budget deficits, high unemployment, and falling median incomes.
It’s no wonder the governor is attracted to alternative methods of judging performance. Perhaps he’ll return from Bhutan with a new mantra for the state’s squabbling legislators and struggling residents: Think happy thoughts.