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Governor debate turns combative

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Gov. Kate Brown and state Rep. Knute Buehler hit their differences hard Thursday night in a televised debate in Medford, making their pitch to voters in the race for governor on Nov. 6.

As televised on KOBI Channel 5, they raced through one hour of questions on education, wildfires and the homeless, often referring back to specific problems facing Southern Oregonians.

Republican Buehler and Democrat Brown had faced off in another debate in North Portland Tuesday, hitting on some of the same issues. Independent Party nominee Patrick Starnes wasn’t at the Medford debate.

Buehler continued to rap Brown for paying too much attention to public employees retirement and not enough to elevating educational standards in Oregon, which he said are some of the worst in the nation.

“It’s time to rescue those kids from a classroom funding crisis,” he said before KOBI and about 50 community members. Buehler vowed to increase K-12 funding by 15 percent in the two upcoming biennial budgets.

Brown said Oregon has made strides in decreasing its dropout rate, and she said she’s focused on early childhood education as well as increasing career and technical programs in the state, something she said Southern Oregonian employers have asked of her during her trips to this region.

She didn’t want to cut the retirement benefits teachers receive, pointing out the average monthly pension is $2,300.

“I simply will not cut teachers' retirement to fund our school system,” she said.

Buehler said all of Oregon needs to be prepared for the potential Cascadia earthquake that has the potential to isolate the Rogue Valley for weeks or months.

He said Brown is too Portland-centric on transportation and hasn’t devoted enough energy to the rest of the state in preparing for a massive quake.

Brown said she’s worked with Sen. Alan DeBoer, R-Ashland, to get a transportation package through the Legislature, pointing out that $35 million has been set aside for the Interstate 5 viaduct through Medford, identified as likely to collapse during a quake.

“I worked with Democrats and Republicans to get the transportation package,” she said, noting Buehler had voted ‘no.’

Buehler said the package didn’t offer enough for the state and included a provision to have a toll road in the Portland area.

Ashland and Medford have struggled with homelessness issues, and both candidates said they would make strides to end the problem.

“My vision is to end homelessness over the next five years,” Buehler said.

He proposed creating 4,000 beds for crisis shelters and housing.

Brown said she’s invested $300 million in housing and shelters and proposes another $750 million over the next three years.

“We need to get our children and families off the street,” she said.

Thinning the forests to lessen wildfire danger was also on the top of their agendas.

Brown said the state needs to work more collaboratively with the federal government, which manages many of the forests.

She said the state needs to increase its investment in projects such as the thinning of forests in the Ashland watershed, which would also put rural Oregonians to work.

Buehler said the federal government has mismanaged the forests for decades and existing collaborative agreements under the Good Neighbor Authority haven’t been executed well.

The proposed Jordan Cove pipeline has been a political hot potato, with many Southern Oregonians opposed to it because it would require traversing private lands.

Brown didn’t comment on the pipeline, but Buehler endorsed it wholeheartedly.

“The single biggest opportunity in Southern Oregon is Jordan Cove in Coos Bay,” Buehler said. He said it would transform the region by stimulating job production.

They staked out differences on gun laws as well.

Brown said she saw the pain in the Roseburg community after the 2015 shooting at Umpqua Community College.

As a result, she said she’s worked for tougher background checks, something she said her opponent opposed.

Buehler said he supports gun rights laws but said they need to be balanced with the need to keep everybody safe.

He said he supports raising the age that someone can buy an assault rifle to 21.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneOregon Gubernatorial candidate Knute Buehler responds to a question during a debate with Gov. Kate Brown Thursday evening in Medford.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneDemocratic Gov. Kate Brown responds to a question about the Medford I-5 viaduct during a debate with Republican opponent Knute Buehler Thursday evening at KOBI Channel 5.