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Contact: Amy Wojcicki, Communications Director amy [at] dpo [dot] org (503) 239-8636
In what Oregon Democrats desperately hope is a model for the final five weeks of the governor's race, John Kitzhaber started slowly but came on strong in Thursday night's gubernatorial debate, proving noticeably more adept — at least in the confines of the KGW television studio — at proposing specific solutions for what ails a state in the grip of a severe recession.
Ably prepared in his opening remarks, Republican Chris Dudley got a good start in the campaign's first (and potentially only) debate, arguing that the best way to end the state's "14-year losing streak" — when it comes to unemployment numbers that are higher than the national average — is to cut the capital-gains rate, thereby attracting wealthy entrepreneurs to move to Oregon, and "to talk about the elephant in the room: labor costs."
But as the hour-long debate progressed, Dudley found it increasingly difficult to move beyond the hi-lighted talking points. Midway through the debate, The Oregonian's Jeff Mapes asked the two candidates to state one clear and specific objection to Oregon's land-use laws.
Dudley could not do it, suggesting only that Oregonians on either side of the rural-urban divide should play by the same rules.
Kitzhaber? "Well, I don't want to see the casino built in the gorge," he said. He then added, "You gotta be quick here."
By far the more experienced candidate in these debates, Kitzhaber — who is seeking a third term as Oregon's governor — was noticeably quicker on his feet in dealing with questions that largely focused on the state economy.
Dudley certainly had his moments. Time and again he argued that a vote for Kitzhaber is affirmation for "the same old policies that brought us to this point," a point at which the state ranks woefully low in unemployment numbers and quality of education.
"The verdict is in," Dudley said. "We have to go in a new direction."
But as one might expect from a guy who's been submerged in the minutiae of Oregon politics for most of his adult life, Kitzhaber proved much better at tendering specific answers when called upon by Mapes, KGW's Laurel Porter or the studio audience.
When asked for specifics on addressing Oregon's $3 billion shortfall in the next biennium, Dudley twice argued that many in the state still believe that "we need to get spending under control" before we can initiate any discussion about additional revenue or a revised tax structure.
Noting that 93 percent of the budget is already committed to education, police and prisons, and human services, Kitzhaber argued, "The cuts have already been made." He insisted Oregon must invest revenue from the kicker into a rainy-day fund, and argued that "it's time to diversity our tax base," an overwhelming percentage of which is generated by income taxes that are particularly volatile when the economy hits the skids.
"That's not a discussion we can afford to dodge any longer," Kitzhaber said.
Neither candidate was interested in further discussion about questions relating to their decisions to purchase homes, Dudley's to dodge some Oregon taxes by buying a home in the state of Washington and Kitzhaber's with the help of a loan he received from Jerry Bidwell, whom he later appointed to the Oregon Investment Council.
While Dudley insisted that Kitzhaber's decision not to disclose the Bidwell loan might erode voters' trust in government, Kitzhaber insisted that such questions reminded him of a Thomas Pynchon quote from "Gravity's Rainbow":
"If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about the answers."
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