PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The leading contenders for the Democratic nomination for Oregon governor took part in an hour-long debate hosted by KOIN 6 News and Pamplin Media Group on Tuesday evening.
Beginning at 7 p.m., Tina Kotek, Tobias Read, Patrick Starnes and George Carrillo answered questions both from journalists and viewers. KOIN 6 News anchor Ken Boddie moderated while KOIN reporter Lisa Balick and Pamplin Media Group managing editor Dana Haynes presented questions.
The primary is set for May 17.
Below is a list of main takeaways from the night. To watch the debate in its entirety, click here.
Roe v. Wade
With the debate beginning a little more than 24 hours after Politico broke the news of the United States Supreme Court’s expected decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the first question of the night was focused on how the candidates would protect a woman’s right to abortion.
Former House Speaker Kotek kicked things off. She said she is “outraged” by the expected decision and wants every Oregonian watching the debate to know she will “always stand up and protect access to abortion in Oregon.”
“We’re going to go back 50 years in providing access to healthcare for women with that decision,” Kotek stated. “But here in Oregon, we anticipated this — I worked with folks to make sure that we can secure access to abortion here in Oregon, it is in state law and no matter was the Supreme Court does, there will be safe access to abortion in Oregon and I think we have to make sure that Oregon becomes a beacon for people from around the country who will need access to basic healthcare — and that’s something you can count on from me as your next governor.”
Starnes, who ran as an independent for the 2018 gubernatorial race, followed Kotek’s response.
Starnes told the audience he and his wife walked to KOIN Tower from the federal building four blocks away after they had joined in on the pro-choice rally happening in the area. He said he’s proud of the Oregonians who are meeting across the state to rally together over the issue.
“This issue is such a disappointment, not just for Oregon, but for the nation — and it just pushes the urgency of having healthcare for all and a single-payer system so we can cover all of our Oregonians with free abortion services and also other things,” Starnes said. “I think we were caught off guard and are disappointed and I’m glad Oregonians are rallying together across the state and I’ll be there to fight for your choice and your body as your next governor.”
Currently a program manager for the Oregon Health Authority, Carrillo said he will ensure Oregon upholds the protection of all Oregonians if elected governor — going so far as to say he will sue the federal government if need be. He said as a United States Marine, he’s sacrificed a lot for democracy, but “this is not what democracy is.”
“I tend to disagree that this is a surprise — we saw this coming. We saw what Donald Trump did during his four years, the amount of damage he’s created on our federal system, the amount of hate and division that the Republican party now stands for,” Carrillo said. “I will provide the protection. I will go to battle with the federal government. I will sue the federal government and if they want to hold me in contempt for providing those protections, so be it — but I will not let anybody suffer, not from the tyranny and oppression of more discrimination in our system.”
State Treasurer Read rounded the SCOTUS question out, saying the prospect of Roe v. Wade being overturned is “horrifying.” He said although Oregon is more protected than other states, those protections can change with a single election.
“This is settled law and it’s wrong to do anything that makes it harder for women to exercise their own autonomy. We are in a much better position in Oregon thanks to the leadership of Governor Brown, Speaker [Kotek] and the legislature, but it’s important to remember that these protections are just one election away from being removed,” he said. “We have to do everything we possibly can, and I will, as governor, use every tool at my disposal to make sure that women retain that protection. That’s why it is so important that we select a nominee who can win in the general election and make sure that women continue to have those protections.”
Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance & campaign finance reform
In a question posed to Kotek, KOIN’s Lisa Balick said voters are wondering what happened to the Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance program that was approved by lawmakers in 2019.
“As Speaker of the House, I happened to negotiate what is going to be one of the strongest Paid Family and Medical Leave insurance programs in the country,” she began. “Here’s what happened: it got delayed because of COVID, but one of the reasons I’m running for governor is to make sure we can deliver on the promise of that program. It’s going to transform the ability of Oregonians that take care of themselves and their loved ones and we have to make sure it operates the way it was intended to and that is one of the things I will make sure happens as governor to make sure it is up and running for people to be able to use it.”
Read jumped in here, taking issue with Kotek’s response. He said she can’t pick and choose the things she takes credit for.
“It is a good thing to have these ambitions and promises, but it strikes me that that’s not how leadership works. You don’t get to just take credit for the good things and not take some accountability for what’s delayed,” he said. “We knew that was a complicated program that the [Oregon] Employment Department was not ready to take it on, so I don’t think we should be surprised that it hasn’t been delivered. So I don’t think you can have it both ways and say ‘I get credit for it but not the blame for not holding the department accountable.'”
Kotek rebutted Read by saying he knows that state agencies are overseen by Gov. Brown, not her. Kotek also said with the challenges OED was facing that were brought on by the pandemic, we know they had their hands full.
This back-and-forth prompted both Carrillo and Starnes to edge in with their own responses, with Carrillo getting the next chance to speak.
“The Speaker of the House is the most powerful lawmaker. She can easily pick up the phone and have that conversation with directors, it happens all the time,” Carrillo stated. “This political pressure that happens from the legislature which completely puts us all upside down in state goverment. So there is a collaboration between our House and our Senate and with the governor and our agencies — so let’s not be disillusioned by these false statements today.
Then Starnes took issue with Kotek over campaign finance reform.
“I would like to talk about the Speaker’s relationship [with] Governor Brown,” Starnes began. “When I endorsed Governor Brown in 2018 and pulled out of the race so she could beat Dr. Bueller, we agreed that a constitutional amendment had to happen and then immediately I went into the 2019 session… and I said this is a priority of the governor and I.
“You [Kotek] told me, campaign finance reform was not a priority for you and we see that now in ’21, you failed after such huge success with Measure 107, you failed to set contribution limits,” he concluded.
After Starnes finished, Kotek ensured she had the last word on the topic.
“I do appreciate that the men on this panel can tell me what I could and couldn’t have done as Speaker of the House,” she said. “As it relates to campaign finance reform, I made sure we passed that in the Oregon House in 2019 — I couldn’t help that the Senate president couldn’t get it done.”
“How are you different? Be specific.”
The lightning round of questions began with Kotek being asked how she is different from the others in the primary. She responded by saying anyone who knows her knows she’s a “change-maker.”
“I’m not ever happy with the status quo,” she said. “I think it’s important to challenge the norms and make sure we can have a state where everyone can be successful. I’m going to fight for every Oregonian to make sure no one is left behind because that’s just who I am.”
Stating he is the only “true outsider” of the group, Starnes claimed that he is “leading by example” by limiting his campaign donations to $1,000 per person and not taking any corporate or special interest PAC money.
“And I have to say, these folks that have been here for 15 years in Salem are the status quo — both of them,” Starnes commented.
The question was posed to Carrillo next, who highlighted the fact that he is the only person of color on the debate stage and the only PoC to reach this level.
“The reality of my situation is that I represent the BIPOC community,” Carrillo said. “And when we think about a system of oppression and the change that we need, I know exactly what it looks like because I’m a receiver of it every day, just along with so many other people. As [Kotek] says that she won’t leave anyone behind, trust me, there’s plenty of us that are left behind and that’s why I believe I should be the next governor, to actually bring our people together.”
Read followed next, noting he is the only person who has been elected to a statewide office and served in executive positions.
“That’s a real difference in legislative experience,” he said.
Read also brought up that having two school-aged children shapes how he thinks about issues because he “sees what’s happening in schools up close.”
Tone of the debate
Although some terse moments sprang up here and there throughout the hour, a big takeaway from Tuesday was the relative tameness of the debate. Aside from a back-and-forth that began with a question on Paid Family and Medical Leave, the candidates were mostly respectful of one another, answered the presented questions and didn’t stray from within their time limits.
With that said, none of the candidates broke any new ground. For the most part, the candidates stuck to their previous statements and themes that voters already know them for.
To read the live blog of the debate, click here.