Governor candidates meet in first - and maybe final - debate

Governor candidates meet in first - and maybe final - debate »Play Video
Democrat John Kitzhaber and Republican Chris Dudley.

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - Democrat John Kitzhaber and Republican Chris Dudley faced off Thursday night in a lively debate that focused on the campaigns' competing narratives. Former governor Kitzhaber sought to portray Dudley as a protector of the wealthy, while Dudley said another Kitzhaber administration would be a return to the past.

The debate was the first in the race for Oregon governor - and the only one agreed to by both candidates so far.

During his campaign, Kitzhaber has defended his previous two administrations while selling himself as the candidate who can close Oregon's current $3 billion budget gap. He said Thursday he can start working immediately.

"I can go down to Salem on Day One and get my arms around this budget crisis," Kitzhaber said. "I want to actually create jobs today, not tomorrow."

Dudley said he's offering a chance to let businesses grow in the state while avoiding the labor-supported Democratic policies of the past three gubernatorial administrations.

"What I offer is a vision, a vision to take Oregon forward," Dudley said. "We have to get out of the mindset that we've been on for too long - more taxes, more taxes, more taxes."

In seeking to ameliorate Oregon's budget crisis, each candidate was asked what he would cut. Neither gave a specific answer.

Dudley said Oregon's labor costs are unsustainable.

"We won't scapegoat state workers, (but) the state simply can't afford it," Dudley said.

Kitzhaber said, "The cuts have already been made." He added the state can't cut from its three largest programs: education, public safety and human services. Those make up 93 percent of Oregon's budget.

Ultimately, the debate came down to each side's talking points, with the candidates avoiding stumbling blocks in what may be their sole joint television appearance. Dudley was asked about what development in the state he would oppose and struggled for an answer, but said development should be "restrained."

Kitzhaber, despite a pledge in the Democratic primaries to avoid negative advertising, had to account for ads he ran that chastised Dudley's choice to live in Washington state in the 1990s to avoid paying some Oregon taxes.

Kitzhaber called them "comparative ads," and said they were necessary because of the lack of debates between the candidates. He offered to debate Dudley in Portland next week, and Dudley declined. Dudley then invited Kitzhaber to a debate in Medford. Kitzhaber did not commit.

Each side was quick to claim victory, e-mailing press releases both during the debate and shortly after.

Dudley said questions about his decision to live in Washington state while playing for the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers in the 1990s to avoid paying some taxes amount to "unfair criticism."

"I think it's ridiculous to say that," Dudley said, noting that thousands of people live in Washington and shop in Oregon. "We need to change our environment so people stay here."

Kitzhaber said a home loan he received from a man he later appointed to the Oregon Investment Council was fair and is a non-issue.

"Let's look at the facts. I bought a home, paid a market rate interest," Kitzhaber said. "I nominated a very qualified individual to the Oregon Investment Council."

One of Dudley's most salient proposals is cutting Oregon's capital gains tax from 11 percent to 3 percent, then restoring it to 5 percent. Kitzhaber said this would benefit wealthy Oregonians while costing the state $800 million over four years.

"It won't create a single job," Kitzhaber said. "The way you do it is not by simply giving away money to those who least need it."

Dudley said taxing businesses who then leave the state hurts revenue.

"To think that doesn't affect where capital goes is naive at best," Dudley said. "Eleven percent of zero is zero."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.