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Governor race: Still sharp tones in final debate

Kitzhaber, Richardson break little new ground in eighth joint appearance in four weeks


Their disagreements remained sharp, but Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber and Republican rival Dennis Richardson broke little new ground Monday night in their final joint appearance of the campaign.

Richardson continued to assail Kitzhaber for Oregon’s above-average unemployment, below-average per-capita income and high school graduation rates, and ethics questions about Kitzhaber’s fiancée using her position as Oregon’s first lady for personal gain.

“That’s not OK, that’s corruption,” Richardson said in their debate broadcast on Medford television station KOBI.

But Kitzhaber, who is seeking a fourth nonconsecutive term, says Oregon has come a long way from the depths of the most recent economic downturn to make progress on a number of issues.

“We had to throw away the political playbook and cross the partisan divide,” he says.

Richardson was on home ground — he is a six-term state representative from nearby Central Point — but Kitzhaber also spent 14 years in the Legislature, eight of them as Senate president, from a Southern Oregon district.

Asked by KOBI news director and debate moderator Craig Smullin to give letter grades to Oregon’s education, health care and law enforcement, Kitzhaber responded with a C, A and D; Richardson, F, F and C.

Kitzhaber pressed for more education and job training. Richardson did not disagree, but says businesses should face less regulation and get tax cuts, although he gave no specifics.

The hourlong appearance was their eighth joint appearance in four weeks. Five were in public forums or on TV, and three were before newspaper editorial boards, including Pamplin Media Group/EO Media Group on Sept. 22.

There are four minor-party candidates. on the Nov. 4 ballot.

The latest independent public opinion survey indicated that Kitzhaber continues to lead Richardson, although some of its responses were gathered in the middle of news disclosures about Cylvia Hayes, Kitzhaber’s fiancée, and their after-effects may not have been fully reflected in the survey conducted for Oregon Public Broadcasting/Fox 12.

As of Monday, Kitzhaber had raised $3.6 million to Richardson’s $1.8 million, and Kitzhaber’s campaign had almost $1 million on hand, triple Richardson’s amount. Richardson recently got $50,000 from Oregon Right to Life; Kitzhaber, a physician, supports abortion rights.

Not since Vic Atiyeh was re-elected in 1982 have Oregon voters elected a Republican as governor.

Timber counties

Asked what they could do to bolster support for law enforcement in timber-dependent Southern Oregon counties, both agree that the long-term solution lies in reviving logging in the region’s federal forests.

“We need to create jobs and economic activity that brings revenue into the counties,” Kitzhaber says.

He says federal legislation, which he is involved in negotiating, is required to do just that and also protect some of those lands from logging.

But Richardson says the House and the Senate have yet to reconcile competing versions.

“They compete, but nothing is getting done. It’s always about talk,” Richardson says. “What we need is a governor who will align with other Western governors and go back to Washington and make it our issue.”

Gun regulation

Smullin brought up Richardson’s statement after the 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., which left 20 students and six educators dead. Richardson said then he favored allowing teachers to arm themselves — a statement that drew sharp criticism.

“It’s not right when the only person who is armed on a campus happens to be the perpetrator of mass violence,” Richardson says.

Richardson chose not to promote his prior advocacy of arming teachers, but says schools should have the option of hiring retired police or soldiers to provide security.

“Schools are not the place for firearms, period,” Kitzhaber says. "There is a difference between a law enforcement officer having a gun and a teacher."

Both candidates favor expanded criminal background checks so that firearms are kept out of the hands of people with mental impairments. Both say mental health programs should be expanded so that people can get treatment before such events occur.

Kitzhaber added: “I really think there should be some accountability for parents whose children gain access to guns and commit a crime with them.”

He also noted that the most recent Oregon school shooting — June 10 at Reynolds High School in Troutdale, where one student and the shooter died — has already faded from the headlines.

"I think we have to have a larger discussion about gun safety," he says.

Opposition to Measure 91

Both candidates oppose Measure 91, which would legalize marijuana for recreational use by adults and require the Oregon Liquor Control Commission to regulate its cultivation, taxation and retail sale.

Kitzhaber, who has a son, says the message likely to be sent by its passage is: What’s the big deal? He says marijuana is a drug, like alcohol, with consequences.

“I think it’s inevitable we are going to have recreational marijuana in Oregon,” he says. “What we need is a better framework of education, public safety and public health, which we do not have in place today.”

Richardson, who has nine children and 31 grandchildren, says he would carry out the law.

“But I think we ought to learn from the experiences of Colorado and Washington before we dive into the same deep waters without knowing what’s beneath the surface,” he says.

Other moments

Asked by the moderator how they had reconciled a conflict between public sentiment and personal judgment, Richardson said he could not recall one — but Kitzhaber said he could single out at least two instances.

As a senator from Southern Oregon in the early 1980s, he voted in support of Oregon’s land use program, which protects farm and forest lands and confines most urban development to cities. Majorities in Douglas County voted three times to repeal or weaken the law, but all failed statewide.

He also voted for a bill, which failed in 1983, barring discrimination based on sexual orientation. A broader antidiscrimination bill became law in 2007, when Richardson voted against it and Kitzhaber was out of office.

“Leadership is about leading,” Kitzhaber says. "It’s not always agreeing with your constituents.”

But Richardson criticized Kitzhaber for granting a temporary reprieve to twice-convicted murderer Gary Haugen, despite voters approving reinstatement of the death penalty in 1984. Haugen appealed Kitzhaber’s 2011 action, but the Supreme Court upheld the governor in 2013, and Haugen remains on death row.

“He did not mention that when he was running for office in 2010,” Richardson says, although Kitzhaber said previously he did bring up the subject at a forum in Salem. "But after he gets in, he says he does not agree with that."

Not all the moments were contentious.

Asked to describe personal weaknesses, Richardson said, “I get too focused, I’m a workaholic, I am a perfectionist,” but added that people want accountants and lawyers to be the latter.

Kitzhaber interjected, to laughter: “I also think people want their doctor to be a perfectionist.”

pwong@PamplinMedia.com

(503) 385-4899

twitter.com/capitolwong

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