June 06, 2001 11:00 pm

U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon, is considering taking a leap of faith and running against as many as four other Democrats hoping to replace outgoing Gov. John Kitzhaber. DeFazio, at 54, might be looking for his swan song by running for the chief executive position after moving to Oregon 30 years ago from his native Massachusetts.

Although he has been almost unbeatable in his southwest Oregon district, which includes Oregons liberal Eugene area, the primary fight he would be up against would certainly be more bruising than anything hes been involved in recently.

Besides DeFazio, other Democratic primary candidates include former State Treasurer Jim Hill, former Multnomah County Commissioner Bev Stein, former Port of Portland executive Mike Thorne and possibly Supreme Court Justice Ted Kulongoski.

DeFazio believes that Oregon needs a tough, call- it-as-you-see-it chief executive and a Democratic leader who will also work hard to put the Legislature under his partys control. And according to many DeFazio observers, that is exactly what Oregonians would get if DeFazio were elected. Most people either love him or hate him. There doesnt seem to be a lot of center ground.

some Republicans and non-affiliated conservatives dont think DeFazio would be easy to work with; he is touting his frequent opposition to former President Clinton, who tended to be more moderate or conservative on many issues. DeFazio already has said that if he were elected and the Democrats didnt control the Legislature, he wouldnt think twice about using the governors office as a bully pulpit to beat up Republicans.

In an era of bipartisan efforts and moderation, DeFazio doesnt sound a bit like he would work toward compromise. If anything, he sounds like a guy with a chip on his shoulder, ready to get his agenda passed at any cost.

So far DeFazio hasnt said whether he will run for governor in 2002, but as politicians continue to position themselves for various races, DeFazio certainly sounds like a guy who is getting ready to announce.

For those of us in Eastern Oregon who have grown to believe that even a liberal Democrat like Sen. Ron Wyden is willing to listen to every Oregonian, we should be considering who would make the best chief executive officer for the state. That means someone who will be strong and bold when needed, and a visionary, who will lead Oregon in a direction that will allow both sides of an issue to be respected, even when taking an opposite direction.

Most of all, it means someone who doesnt have his or her mind already made up before he or she discusses an idea. Perhaps DeFazio can do more for his current constituency as a federal congressman than he would do for all Oregonians as their governor.