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Kitz: four more; Richardson: no more

Stark contrast emerges as governor, challenger clash at editorial board meeting

Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber says his record merits a fourth term, while his Republican and Pacific Green rivals accuse him of not being effective on education and the economy.

Kitzhaber, Republican Dennis Richardson and Pacific Green Party nominee Jason Levin — who crashed the session intended for the major-party candidates — appeared Sept. 22 before the Portland Tribune/Pamplin Media Group and EO Media Group editorial boards, which together represent 35 Oregon newspapers.

Kitzhaber says 120,000 jobs have been created during Oregon’s economic recovery; the unemployment rate was 10 percent when he took office. He also says a record 95 percent of Oregonians — up from 86 percent last year when the national health-care overhaul took effect — now have health insurance coverage.

“I think the biggest difference is that I have a solid record of accomplishment,” Kitzhaber says about the record third term he was elected to in 2010, after being governor from 1995 to 2003.

“We’ve heard from Dennis today a lot of criticism. I understand politics is about scoring political points. He’s doing a good job of that. But he did not have very concrete, very specific proposals, about how he is going to deal with education and economic development.”

During Kitzhaber’s latest term, lawmakers set up a superboard to oversee all education spending from early childhood efforts through graduate school.

“We are not simply debating a big K-12 (budget) number every two years, then coming back time and again wondering why we’re not making progress,” he says.

Oregon also expanded health insurance coverage to more than 500,000 people through the federal Medicaid program and private insurance, even though the latter enrollment took place by manual means instead of a website.

“These people do not care how they are covered,” he says.

Under his tenure, delivery of health care to low-income recipients was transformed by coordinated-care organizations — a model Kitzhaber wants to export to the private sector.

Kitzhaber also noted his leadership in a special 2013 legislative session that yielded more money for schools and social services, yet reduced public-pension costs and small-business taxes.

GOP criticism

Richardson, a state representative from Southern Oregon since 2003 and a lawyer, assailed Kitzhaber for specific failures such as the Cover Oregon website for health insurance and the proposed Columbia River Crossing linking Portland with Vancouver, Wash. Neither project came to fruition.

Vic Atiyeh’s re-election in 1982 was the most recent time Oregonians have elected a Republican as governor, and Richardson says it’s time for a change.

“To do that we have to install a different kind of leadership, where you have a governor who pays attention to the details,” he says.

Richardson also says Oregon’s unemployment rate has been consistently above the national average for 18 years, while its high-school graduation rate of 68 percent is among the nation’s lowest.

Richardson would have Oregon ditch the Common Core academic standards shared by 43 states and return control of public schools to local boards, which get a large chunk of operating funds from the state.

“We need common sense, not another federally mandated and implemented experiment in education,” says Richardson, although the Common Core standards were initiated by governors and state education officials. Oregon adopted them in October 2010, before Kitzhaber was elected governor.

On the economy, Richardson says Oregon ought to do better than a per-capita income below the national average and overall unemployment above average. “What we currently are doing is failing,” he says.

Richardson says he would institute a lieutenant governor — Oregon is one of seven states without one — to promote international trade. He has been on nearly a dozen Oregon trade missions to China.

But Kitzhaber, who has led two such missions to Asia and one to Europe, says it’s also important to tailor jobs to Oregon’s diverse regional economies. Although Oregon’s unemployment rate went up to 7.2 percent in August, Kitzhaber says it’s because more people are re-entering the search for jobs, whose total went up.

“I’d be happy to stand on my numbers,” he says.

Richardson skewered Kitzhaber for Oregon’s gender wage gap — women earned 79 cents for every $1 by men in 2011 — but Kitzhaber said Richardson opposes abortion rights, state-mandated contraceptive coverage, and steps toward pay equity.

Richardson says he is posing the choice for voters as the future against the past, not Republican against Democrat. As for his conservative stances on social issues, “these are not what we’re focused on.”

Third-party participant

The Pacific Green Party candidate had not been scheduled to appear, but crashed the event.

Jason Levin of Portland says as the major-party nominees, Kitzhaber and Richardson, are raising huge sums for television commercials and other campaign promotions.

“That money comes with strings attached,” he says. “I have no strings attached when it comes to working for the people of Oregon.”

Levin says he offers an alternative, although Julius Meier in 1930 was the only Oregon governor not affiliated with a major party. “Oregon is not satisfied with Democrats or Republicans,” he says.

A former teacher in the Beaverton district, Levin says he is running to promote government-paid health-care coverage, marijuana legalization, a reduction in school administration costs, and a five-year tax break for new teachers. He backs some logging on federal lands, but also wants to protect old-growth forests.

Monday’s forum was the first of several scheduled between Kitzhaber and Richardson through Oct. 14.

Only the League of Oregon Cities conference on Saturday in Eugene will have as participants all six candidates on the ballot. Others are Aaron Auer of Aurora, Constitution Party; Paul Grad of Cave Junction, Libertarian Party; and Chris Henry of Portland, Progressive Party.

Peter Wong can be reached at pwong@PamplinMedia.com or twitter.com/capitolwong.


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