Brown, Pierce square off in City Club of Portland gubernatorial debate

OregonLive October 1, 2016

Gov. Kate Brown defended her years of public service Friday (Sept. 30, 2016), even as her Republican challenger, Bud Pierce, cited her record as the main reason why voters should turn her out of office in November. 

The exchanges between the two, coming during a debate sponsored by the City Club of Portland, were notably sharper than their first appearance together in Bend last weekend. 

Pierce, a Salem cancer doctor with no experience in elected office, invoked Oregon Republican stalwarts such as Tom McCall, Mark Hatfield and Vic Atiyeh. He sought to portray himself as a political moderate capable of balancing what he called the "hard left" leanings of the state's Democratic majority. 

In Brown, he said, voters should expect "more of the same" when it comes to government's role in the economy and personal freedoms. 

For her part, the governor largely left the attacks to Pierce. Instead, she pointed to her quarter-century in elected office as a primary reason voters in November should elect her to serve what would have been the final two years of former Gov. John Kitzhaber's term. 

Since taking over for Kitzhaber in February 2015, Brown signed legislation raising Oregon's minimum wage as high as $14.75 by 2022, offering paid sick leave statewide, expanding background checks for gun sales and instituting automatic voter registration. 

"I'm so proud of the work we've done over the last 18 months," said Brown, a Democrat who served in the Legislature before she was twice elected secretary of state. "I look forward to making Oregon an even better place to live." 

On the issues, the candidates disagreed far more often than they agreed. 

Brown, for instance, defended her support of Measure 97, a controversial proposal on the fall ballot that would increase the minimum tax paid by corporations with at least $25 million in annual sales in Oregon. 

Like Pierce, however, she said she's also preparing a budget reflecting the measure's possible failure. If it goes down, Brown added, state agencies will be left facing across-the-board cuts of 10 percent to 12 percent. 

Pierce criticized Measure 97, saying it will cost the average Oregon family about $600 per year in higher costs of goods and services. 

The two also parted ways on how to deal with gun violence.

Pierce said he "looks at science" to find statistics showing that gun deaths have decreased by about 50 percent over the past two to three decades. 

More than four in five gun deaths in Oregon over that stretch have been suicides, he said. So instead of passing more laws dealing with gun restrictions, he said, a better solution would involve solving the mental health crises that lead to those deaths. 

Brown replied by noting that Saturday marks the one-year anniversary of the mass shooting at Umpqua Community College, the deadliest in Oregon history.

"Those nine killed in Roseburg were not suicides," she said. "We must take action.

Brown pointed out that gun-rights activists burned an effigy of her on the steps of the Oregon Capitol last week.

Brown dismissed the notion that the demonstration would somehow quiet her on the topic of guns, adding, "If these extremist groups continue to do this every time I stand up for the safety of Oregonians, they are going to run out of mannequins." 

Pierce also denounced the protesters. 

But Pierce's comments elicited boos from the sold-out audience of about 350 on at least two occasions, despite a request from the moderator, The Oregonian/OregonLive's editorial page editor, Laura Gunderson, that spectators refrain from applause or other outbursts. 

The first came when Brown asked him why he dropped his endorsement of GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump. After conceding earlier that "I agree, the Republican party has lost its way," Pierce drew grumbles by saying that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has had "her own trouble under oath." 

The next occurred when Pierce suggested that instances of pay inequality and domestic violence are far less likely to occur when "a woman has a great education and training and a good job. Women who are most vulnerable are those who have no place to turn, no family around them." 

"I'm honestly not sure where to start," Brown shot back. "I grew up in a middle class family and went to law school, and I still know what it feels like to be paid substantially less than a male lawyer in the office next to me." 

Pierce and Brown are scheduled to debate at least three more times before November's general election. Their next face-off is set for Oct. 6 in Eugene.

-- Dana Tims