Gubernatorial candidates lay out cases for newspaper crowd

Scott Swanson

With Gov. Kate Brown bowing out, a proposed debate between the top gubernatorial candidates became, instead, campaign stump speeches by her chief opponents, Republican Knute Buehler and Independent Patrick Starnes, to an audience of newspaper publishers Friday, July 20.

Brown declined an invitation from the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association to appear at its annual convention, held this year in Powell Butte.

In her absence, Buehler, a physician and current legislator from Bend, and Starnes, a 56-year-old cabinetmaker from Brownsville, each spoke for approximately 20 minutes about their campaign platform in a forum context to an audience of newspaper publishers and editors from around the state.

Knute Buehler

Buehler, 54, who represents House District 54, is a former Oregon State University baseball player, and the university’s first Rhodes scholar, who is now an orthopedic surgeon in Bend.

He launched into criticism of Brown’s performance as governor, and said he believes Oregonians are “deeply unhappy” with state government in general.

“There’s a strong sense out there we can and should be doing better,” Buehler said.

He said Brown has ignored problems that could be solved, which have been “made worse” during her four years as governor.

He was particularly critical of Oregon’s performance in education, citing a “detailed plan” he released two weeks ago that he said spells out how he plans to take Oregon from the bottom five states in the nation in academic achievement and quality, to the top five, in five years.

His plan includes increasing the number of hours students spend in school – noting that Oregon has one of the shortest school years in the nation, improved education standards and teacher supports, providing career and technical education for every student who wants it, and increasing funding for schools by introducing “cost-saving reforms” to PERS and health benefits for state and local government employees.

“I want to rescue students, teachers and public schools from a classroom funding and graduation crisis that has gone on too long,” Buehler said, citing “indifference toward public schools by Gov. Brown,” particularly in funding, which he blamed on “a runaway pension and benefits system that is driving up costs and literally draining away revenue that is supposed to go to schools.

“We have record budgets. We’ve never seen more dollars going to state treasury. But in school district after school district, teachers being cut. All across the state.”

Buehler pledged that as governor, he would not sign “a single new spending bill until I have a PERS reform bill on my desk.”

Buehler also blamed the Brown administration for “incompetence” in its management of the foster care system and Medicaid in the state, citing audits released over the past year by Secretary of State Dennis Richardson’s office.

“Our foster care system is responsible for 8,000 vulnerable kids who have no one else to turn to,” he said, adding that they have been victims of “years of indifference, neglect and abuse.”

He said the audit revealed “bullying and intimidation” and attempts to “muzzle and silence” caseworkers who try to speak up about problems in their agency.

Buehler said he introduced a “rapid response plan” in the last legislative session to address the problems, which was “rejected” by Brown.

He said that was “too bad” because how Oregon responds to the needs of those unable to care for themselves and are “entrusted to our care” is a measure of the state.

He said the state’s public health care needs to combine “compassion with tough love, transitioning people from dependence and, many times, disease and illness to independence and health.”

Buehler also pledged to “no longer leave behind neighbors in rural, poverty areas.”

Citing his own upbringing in Douglas County, he pledged to “be a champion for these long-lost communities.

“I feel strongly the solution exists right in those communities,” he added, listing “safe food products, innovative wood products, and clean, renewable energy” as elements rural communities need.

“What is missing is a governor who cares and who will lead to solve this problem,” Buehler said.

“Every election is a choice. The choice this November will be especially stark. Our status-quo governor has failed to lead on many of these issues.”

He said he will offer a “caring heart and thoughtful voice” as an independent governor serving all Oregonians.”

Patrick Starnes

Starnes, 56, introduced himself as the candidate with “strongest experience in natural resources.”

“I’m probably the only candidate with experience in logging,” he said.

Starnes’ main focus Friday was campaign finance reform, though he talked about his experience as a volunteer in local schools as well.

Starnes attributed a lot of the state’s problems to monied interests, which have corrupted the democratic process in Oregon, he said.

“When I go across state, I don’t care who you talk to – everyone sees democracy being corrupted with big money.”

He said Oregon is 49th in the nation in campaign finance reform, but didn’t explain how he came by that statistic.

“Just like graduation rates, that’s very embarrassing,” Starnes said. “You can promise health reform, PERS reform, but until upi get big money out of politics, it’s just going to be more of the same: “empty promises.”

Like Buehler, he offered a 100-day promise: “I won’t sign any bills until wedo campaign finance reform.”

He said another of his efforts is to bring all the minor parties in Oregon under the Independent Party umbrella, and said he was planning to meet later in the day in Salem with Green Party representatives to start that process.