Oregon voters have a diverse selection of candidates to choose from in this year's governor's race: a truck driver, a minister, a cannabis distillery owner, an investor, a legislator and an incumbent governor.
Five of the six candidates attended a gubernatorial forum held Saturday afternoon at the Hilton Eugene in downtown - the first time nearly all the candidates were together. The forum gave third-party contenders a chance to share their views in a race that has largely focused on Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber and Republican state Rep. Dennis Richardson.
The forum was part of the League of Oregon Cities annual conference that drew city leaders from all over the state. Candidates were asked three questions about the League's top legislative priorities for 2015, which were transportation funding, property tax reform and protecting "home rule," meaning local control within counties.
Libertarian candidate Paul Grad declined to participate in Saturday's forum. He wrote on his website that he doesn't support the League's political priorities.
Progressive candidate Chris Henry, a Portland State University undergraduate student and truck driver, admitted he was nervous and stumbled during most of the questions. When asked how he would work with local government leaders if elected governor, Henry said that he "believes in a bottom-up approach, not top-down."
Though he hasn't served as a city councilor, county commissioner or legislator, Henry said that growing up with 11 siblings taught him to "work very well with groups and teens."
His response drew laughter.
Candidates briefly touched on medical marijuana and mandatory paid sick leave, which Richardson said he "doesn't really see as a government issue at all."
Pacific Green candidate Jason Levin, who owns a Portland-based cannabis distillery called "Bald Brothers," said he would create a single-payer health care system, where the state would fund health insurance, rather than private companies. Levin said he's focused on creating jobs and argued in favor of legalizing marijuana.
"It's a job creator," Levin said. He compared being a third-party candidate to being American comedian Rodney Dangerfield, known for the phrase, "I get no respect."
The Constitution Party candidate Aaron Auer continually went back to one topic: the Bible.
The crowd - and candidates - laughed when Auer said he found Jesus Christ while smoking pot in the 1980s. Auer said that citizens should start arming themselves with guns. He said developing ammunition and gun dispensaries should take precedence over fixing the state's transportation infrastructure.
His comments raised some eyebrows.
Auer, who founded an organization to revive the state's Christian heritage, kissed a worn copy of the Bible he had with him. When asked how he would work with local government officials should he be elected governor, Auer said: "We must consult the Lord and what sayeth the Constitution."
A 20-minute segment of the forum will be aired on Portland's KATU channel 9 a.m. today as part of its "Your Voice Your Vote" program.
Kitzhaber's most viable contender, Richardson, said, if selected as governor, he would create a new, non-elected lieutenant governor position to boost international trade. He said he would work to build a freeway from Coos Bay to Burns and from Burns to Ontario to encourage trade.
The Central Point Republican said he wants to "open up the state" to exports, which is central to the state's economic development, he said. The crowd cheered every time Richardson - and Kitzhaber - finished answering a question.
Kitzhaber, who is seeking his fourth term, said he's helped make the state economically stronger than it was four years ago. During the next four years, if reelected, he said he would work to improve economic equity among communities of color, English-language learners and rural communities.
Most independent polls show Kitzhaber leading Richardson. Some show him with double-digit leads.
Kitzhaber faced Richardson for the first time in a televised debate Friday in Sunriver. Richardson attacked Kitzhaber for paying female staff members less than males.
During Saturday's forum, candidates were not allowed to criticize each other, though third-party candidate Levin snuck in a jab at Richardson, saying his views on gays, minorities and women belong in 1914, not 2014.
Before being cut off by the moderator, Levin said that the $250,000 donation Kitzhaber recently received from Nike founder Phil Knight was a "kickback" for the 2012 special session Kitzhaber called that gave the Washington County-based company greater tax security to help the company expand.
"I believe that we're seeing a lot of the same old, same old from the supposedly only viable candidates," Levin said. "And I think it's time for a credible third-party to be given a shot."
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