Gubernatorial candidates square off tonight in first debate

Election graphic

In what appears to be a tightening race for Oregon governor, three hopefuls will face off tonight at Portland’s Roosevelt High School for the first time in the 2018 election cycle.

The debate will feature Democrat Kate Brown, the incumbent, and challengers Republican Knute Buehler and Patrick Starnes, an independent.

The race appears to be the closest for the office since at least 2010, when John Kitzhaber narrowly defeated former Trail Blazer Chris Dudley. Recent polls show Brown and Buehler in a dead-heat.

The televised debate will feature questioning by youth ages 12 to 19, picked to participate from communities throughout the state.

The hourlong debate will start at 7 p.m. and be moderated by KOIN 6 anchor Jeff Gianola and Portland Tribune education reporter Shasta Kearns Moore. Those interested in watching the debate in person can request a ticket from one of the organizing partners, Children First for Oregon.

The debate will be aired live on KOIN and CSPAN, and streamed at KOIN.com. Other debates will follow Thursday in Medford and next Tuesday in Portland. Ballots go out later this month for the Nov. 6 election.

John Schrag, executive editor for the Pamplin Media Group, one of the partners putting on the debate, said organizers opted to skip opening statements so there would be more time for each of the 15 youths to ask a question. However, if the candidates use their answer time to attack each other, moderators would provide an opportunity for rebuttal.

Schrag said the candidates might be less likely to dismiss questions from students the way politicians sometimes do with journalists.

“These kids have spent two weeks preparing their questions, so if they are going to blow them off, I think that’s pretty bad optics,” Schrag said.

Some questions will be fielded by all three candidates, Schrag said. Other questions, such as ones that pertain to legislative voting records, will only go to Brown and Buehler. Starnes, a cabinet maker, has served on local school boards.

While it will be the first time Brown and Buehler go head-to-head in this election cycle, the two debated before when Buehler challenged Brown for secretary of state in 2012. Brown also debated Republican Rick Dancer in the 2008 race for secretary of state, and Republican Bud Pierce in the 2016 special election for governor.

When Brown and Buehler met in 2012, they were debating the duties of a different office at a different time. But some issues remain. During an October 2012 debate at the City Club of Portland, Buehler mentioned PERS reform in his opening statements, and then the two were questioned on the costly pension plan.

While PERS is likely to come up tonight, other topics bound to come up include education funding, homelessness and gun control.

Over the past couple weeks, as U.S. Supreme Court justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh has been accused by several women of sexual assault, Brown has been active in support of the accusers and called for Kavanaugh to withdraw from consideration.

Brown and her Democratic colleagues have criticized Buehler for staying quiet on the subject, which has captured the attention of the nation. Last week, following a Senate committee hearing which took testimony from Kavanaugh and his primary accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, Buehler called for the FBI to investigate the accusations.

Over the weekend, Brown’s campaign continued to send out newsletters claiming Buehler gave weak, ambiguous responses to reporters asking him where he stands on the nomination, and if he believes Ford.

Brown has also voiced concern that if Kavanaugh does get elected to the high court, a governor with political opinions such as Buehler’s could restrict abortion access in Oregon.

Reporter Aubrey Wieber: aubrey@salemreporter.com or 503-375-1251. He is a reporter for Salem Reporter working with the Oregon Capital Bureau, a collaboration of the Pamplin Media Group, EO Media Group, and Salem Reporter.

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