Senate District 3 has been hotly contested for the past two election cycles, and this year is no different. The sudden death in August of Sen. Alan Bates, D-Medford, sent Democrats and Republicans scrambling to find candidates to run for the remainder of Bates' term, which expires at the end of 2018.

Senate District 3 encompasses House District 6, held by Rep. Sal Esquivel, R-Medford, and House District 5, held by Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, who is retiring. Senate District 3 has a slight Democratic registration edge, but is more evenly divided than House District 5.

Ashland businessman and former Mayor Alan DeBoer was the Republican candidate in House District 5, but chose to seek the nomination to succeed Bates. Jackson County Democrats chose Tonia Moro, an attorney and chairwoman of the Rogue Valley Transportation District board, as their nominee.

In a debate Thursday at the RCC/SOU Higher Education Center in Medford, the two candidates showed they are not far apart on most issues. Their primary disagreement is over Ballot Measure 97, which would levy a 2.5 percent gross receipts tax on corporations with more than $25 million in Oregon sales. Moro supports it, saying the money it would raise is needed to increase state support for public education. DeBoer says it's poorly written and a sales tax in disguise.

DeBoer is a respected community leader with decades of public service, including the Ashland School Board, Ashland mayor and the boards of the Mt. Ashland Association and Ashland Community Hospital. He has a reputation for focusing on solutions rather than party labels, a positive attribute in this era of hyper-partisanship.

Moro has done a capable job on the RVTD board, helping to win passage of a tax levy to restore some bus service. She clearly cares about her community, but she has come out swinging in this race, launching attack ads the day before Thursday's forum.

One of the ads attempts to portray DeBoer as in the pocket of developers, without any detail or context to support the charge. DeBoer said Thursday that the ad appears to refer to a proposed golf course on the edge of Ashland that never got built, but Moro never really answered his request for an explanation.

Moro's decision to go negative is dismaying. Previous races for this seat also turned ugly, with negative ads coming from the Republican side, aimed at Bates. Bates firmly refused to go negative himself, and he never did. Voters responded by giving him two narrow victories in a row.

It's unfortunate that Moro isn't following Bates' leadership example. If her qualifications and positions on the issues aren't enough to persuade voters, attack ads aren't likely to help.

We recommend voters elect Alan DeBoer in Senate District 3.