Knute Buehler was scheduled to square-off with incumbent Secretary of State Kate Brown at Monday's Chamber of Medford/Jackson County Forum.
Instead, the Bend Republican who is challenging Brown on the Nov. 6 ballot had the stage to himself, as chamber officials were unable to schedule a time in which Brown could attend.
Speaking to the largely business group, Buehler, an orthopedic surgeon, said as head of the state's Corporation Division — one of the secretary of state's many roles — he would make Oregon more welcoming to business.
"We're going to help business cut through those 11,000 pages of rules and regulations they encounter," he said. "The secretary of state has the opportunity to make sure your tax dollars are used more wisely and efficiently. We need to look deep into the state budget and reallocate resources to areas that have had cutbacks, like public safety or schools and infrastructure."
Buehler criticized Brown for what he described as a lack of leadership. While Brown's auditors have repeatedly found waste, he said, there is a difference between finding waste and fixing problems.
Brown, who spoke at the November 2011 Chamber Forum, skipped the lunch-time gathering at Rogue Valley Country Club. Chamber Chief Executive Officer Brad Hicks said the October Forum was rescheduled three times in an attempt to accommodate Brown.
Buehler, a Roseburg High School graduate who became Oregon State University's first Rhodes Scholar, was asked about funding for public education. He recalled his quality education growing up in Southern Oregon in the 1970s and '80s.
"I want the same kind of high-quality schools I had growing up in Roseburg," Buehler said. "That allowed a kid whose parents never graduated from high school to go on to become Oregon State's first Rhodes Scholar. That's the kind of schools all of our kids deserve right now."
He said the increasing flow of dollars into the Public Employee Retirement System has to be addressed sooner, rather than later.
"The biggest thing right now, is that we have to get our hands around and solve the problem of the public employees pension problem," Buehler said. "This is a huge issue facing Oregon. It's like a Category 5 hurricane sitting off the Oregon Coast. It's not if it's going to hit us, it's how much damage is going to be done as it moves across the landscape over the next 10 years. Just from the last biennium, it took $1.1 billion more to fund the pension fund. I think people get lost in how big that number is."
In simple terms, he said, $1 billion would pay for 6,000 teachers in the classroom or eliminate all the tuition and fees at Oregon's seven public universities. During the next biennium, PERS will require another $900 million, he said.
"If you want to talk about school quality, here is a big contributing factor," Buehler said. "Don't believe people who say there is nothing we can do ... . That's not true. We have six proposals where we could make this a lot better. We need to stop the pension spiking that drives up the final pension salary, stop the conflict of interest with politicians and judges who take PERS themselves. We need to make sure that the system is there for the loyal public employees who are counting on it and that's all the more important to stabilize it and restructure it."
Buehler said that despite his opponent's claims, he is a big supporter of voting by mail. He said Oregon's vote-by-mail system is one of the best in the country.
"But having said, let's take a look under the hood after 13 years of having vote by mail," he said. "Let's improve it and make it better. There are concerns out there of undue pressure because you don't have the privacy of the voting booth. There's controversy about what to do with ballots after 8 p.m. Let's resolve those things and not sweep them under the rug."
Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or email email@example.com.