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Candidates spar in debate

BEND — Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and her Republican challenger debated for the first time on Saturday ahead of the gubernatorial special election in November, and they highlighted their differences in mostly civil exchanges that lasted an hour.

They came down perhaps most strongly on opposing sides on ballot Measure 97, which would see companies that do more than $25 million in businesses paying a tax. Brown said the money is needed to help fund education, health care for senior citizens and other critical services.

Republican challenger Bud Pierce, who highlighted his private sector experience, said he is opposed to the measure and that it would wind up increasing the cost of living for every Oregonian. Pierce said Oregon's government should learn to live within its means. Detractors of Measure 97 say businesses will wind up passing their additional costs onto their customers.

The debate was held in a meeting room of a hotel in Bend. Just about every seat was taken. The enthusiastic crowd seemed fairly evenly split between the candidates, judging by the applause each received after responding to questions from a panel of journalists. The debate was organized by the Oregon Territory chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Brown is the incumbent, but she is running for the first time. She was secretary of state when she ascended to the governorship when Gov. John Kitzhaber resigned amid an influence-peddling investigation. Pierce, a Salem-based oncologist who runs several clinics, emerged as the Republican challenger in the state's primary election, in May. They are competing to fill the remaining two years of Kitzhaber's term.

In her opening statement on Saturday, Brown said she is proud that Oregon created the first automatic voter registration program and that the state is moving away from coal energy.

Pierce, in his statement, noted his humble background said he will not leave rural Oregon behind if he's elected.