The 2018 Oregon gubernatorial race is nearing the finish line. Over the past week, candidates debated topics from rural internet access to gun control. Major candidates include incumbent Democratic Governor Kate Brown, Republican challenger Representative Knute Buehler and Independent candidate Patrick Starnes.  

There were three debates and although candidate Starnes requested a seat in all three, both NBC5 Medford and KGW Portland opted to exclude Starnes from the final two debates. However, The Torch interviewed Starnes independently to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the platforms of all major candidates.

Oct. 2: Portland

Emmett Crass // The Torch

The first debate, which included all three candidates, was held Oct. 2 at Roosevelt High School in Portland. Students, ranging in age from 12-19, asked the candidates questions pertaining to LGBT rights, bullying and mental health care access.

The candidates found common ground on many of the concerns raised by the students, though their proposals for solutions varied.  They answered in line with their party affiliation when asked about gun control. Brown signed a gun control bill in March of 2018 which expanded background checks, barring convicted domestic abusers and people under restraining orders from buying guns–closing the “intimate partner loophole.” Brown supports banning “military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines” all together.  Buehler voted in favor of closing the “intimate partner loophole,” but voted against the expanded background checks and does not support the banning of any guns. In defense of his voting record, he stated “background checks are not enough” and that we must “find a balance with the Second Amendment.” Starnes takes a Libertarian stance and does not favor the proposal of relinquishing any rights–including the Second Amendment–but supports mandatory training and specialized licenses to own and operate a high-capacity gun.

Oct. 4: Medford

On Oct. 4, Brown and Buehler participated in a debate at the NBC5 studio in Medford. Southern Oregon viewers wrote questions, which were asked by a panel of three news executives. The two candidates wasted no time in promoting their achievements and highlighting their opponent’s respective failures.

Buehler attacked Brown’s “mismanagement” of Oregon’s Public Employee Retirement System and accused her administration of siphoning money from the state’s budget for education to the PERS system. On a scale of one to 10, Brown acknowledged the problem as an eight. However, she did not propose a solution to the state’s $25.3 billion deficit, saying only that she doesn’t “believe you can cut your way to a better education system.”

Although all three candidates have stated that they are pro-choice, Brown also swung back at Buehler by attacking his voting record on access to abortion. Buehler has stated that if elected “Roe v. Wade will stand” but he voted against a 2017 bill that ensured low cost abortion and family planning and requested campaign funding from a pro-life PAC for the 2018 election.  

Oct. 9: Portland

The third debate was held Oct. 9 at KGW Studios in Portland. Again, viewer-submitted questions were asked by a panel, but the debate’s format permitted a 60-second rebuttal–rather than the previously allotted 30 seconds– creating a more contentious discourse.

While both candidates chanted the moderate slogan of “bipartisanship,” there were no hands reaching across the aisle. Buehler again attacked Brown on PERS, school funding and the graduation rate–Oregon’s public schools are ranked third-worst in the nation. “The single biggest failure of Governor Brown is her indifference to fix our public schools,” Buehler said before he confidently declared the he “will do it.”  

Buehler said he wouldn’t sign any more spending bills without major PERS reform and proposed moving the retirement funds into a private 401(k), a mutual fund investment spread over stocks, bonds and money market investments. Brown’s response focused on teachers and firefighters and emphasized the importance of protecting their access to Oregon’s promised retirement package.

“I think it’s easy for a millionaire to say he’s going to cut the retirements of hard-working Oregonians,” Brown said. “I’m not willing to do that.”  

Brown proposed that public employees should pay a percentage of their pension but would not answer the question of how much, she stated only that they “should have some skin in the game.” Starnes proposed an expansion to the funding source of the pension program, to include private sector employers who operate in the state as well as increasing the employee paid percentage to around seven percent.

Candidates were also questioned about the current moratorium on the death penalty which Brown intends to continue. Buehler stated that he would end the moratorium and reinstate capital punishment. Starnes said he would end the moratorium and work to amend the constitution to repeal the state’s allowance of capital punishment. Oregon has not put an inmate to death since 1962.

Currently, polls show incumbent Governor Brown ahead of Buehler by about four points, but these polls don’t account for independent candidates.

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Jess Roten