TURNER, Ore. -- Maybe it was the event’s tone. Maybe it was the setting. Maybe it’s just invigorating to catch the vibe of hundreds of young, energetic students sporting their brand-new red-and-white Turner Elementary School T-shirts.
Whatever contributed to the ambiance, the result was that adversaries vying for Oregon governor seemed more like complementary panel members in harmony Tuesday when the school hosted an assembly with them.
The assembly offered an opportunity for Gov. Kate Brown and Dr. Bud Pierce to appear in the same venue in advance of their first debate, scheduled for Saturday.
“The atmosphere created was fun and relaxed which is exactly what I hoped would happen,” said Turner Elementary School Principal Dan Petersen.
“This is the only town that could pull this off,” said Turner Mayor Gary Tiffin, with a hint of pride.
Cascade School District Superintendent Darin Drill admitted some skepticism when Petersen proposed the idea, wishing him luck in getting both candidates to the school at the same time. But the geographical setting and timing worked out – and worked into a lesson.
“Our goal is to demonstrate to our students that the highest officials in Oregon are accessible and interested in the opinions of everyone,” Petersen said. “We want our students leaving Turner Elementary as confident kids with an interest in taking charge of the future of Oregon.”
It's a lofty aim, but the candidates were right there, front and center, in the school gym fielding pre-arranged questions from a dozen of the school’s older students.
Pierce fielded the toughest question, posed by Rona Smittle: Do you go for the Beavers, the Ducks or both?
The physician skillfully wielded a green and orange card, one in each hand, to brandish his neutrality before the crowd. He subsequently enlisted Gov. Brown into the answer, pointing out that both were born overseas, so each could straddle Oregon’s civil-war antagonisms faultlessly by siding with both schools.
The assembly provided alternating questions, Brown then Pierce, and an opportunity for the candidates to ask questions of the children.
Brooks Rasmussen asked Brown about her favorite job, besides governor. Maya Casady asked her if she gets any free time or does she work all the time. Spencer Jones cleverly elicited a few tips, asking the governor if she could go back to her 10-year-old self, what advice would she give herself. Pearl Andrade wondered about the funniest thing that has happened while she’s been governor. Cameron Eaton inquired about what kids can do to make Oregon better. Taylor Fitzgerald asked Brown if she’s a friend of President Obama, and is there a golden toilet in the White House?
Pierce’s probes included Isai Ayala’s, asking why is he running for governor and how can he make lives better. Carsyn Gordon asked what kind of doctor are you. Allison Bresee wondered what it was like when Pierce was in school, and what was his favorite subject. Jacqueline Lopez-Herrera asked what’s the funniest thing that happened while working in a hospital. Alexis Percy said that since both are full-time occupations, can a person be a doctor and a governor at the same time?
“I think the Turner Elementary kids represented themselves outstandingly, making the day a win-win on all accounts,” Petersen said. “No matter who wins, every student at Turner can say they know the governor. That's a pretty special thing to be able to say.”
To her final question, Brown acknowledged that she met Obama on his visit to Oregon during a crisis event in Roseburg, and she once sat next to him at a White House dinner. Though that doesn’t necessarily make them “friends,” she said she respects the president very much. Moreover, she said, she has toured the West Wing and does not recall seeing a golden toilet.
Both candidates furnished substance within the event’s objective, affording accessibility and even snapshots into their lives. Brown said she practices yoga and takes long walks to unwind. Pierce told the students that he loved going to school and spent 20 years, beginning in 1974, to achieve several doctorate degrees.
The candidates learned from the students as well, at least from a couple of viewpoints. When asked if their classes were too big, too small or just about right, one boy said there are 27 students in his class, and it was just about right. A girl interjected that her class has 30 and “It’s squished.”
Both candidates also visited classrooms to do some reading.
Ultimately, each was presented with their own “Turner Elementary” T-shirt, which they promptly donned as the student body sent them off with their own rendition of the Queen classic lyrics “We will, we will rock you!” as “Turner, Turner rock you!”
“I didn’t know they were going to do that,” Petersen admitted afterward – but it still seemed to weave in with the event’s aim just the same.
jmuch@StatesmanJournal.com or 503-769-6338, cell 503-508-8157 or follow at twitter.com/justinmuch