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Oregon Republican debate: How candidates for governor said they'd address top issues

Bridget Barton, Jessica Gomez, Bud Pierce and Stan Pulliam faced off on the issues of homelessness, crime, education and more.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Most Oregon voters have their ballots and Election Day is just weeks away for the May Primary. Democratic Gov. Kate Brown is term-limited and cannot run again. With her approval ratings ranked the worst in the country and many Oregonians seeking major change, for the first time in decades it appears possible that a Republican candidate could win election to the governor's office. 

On Tuesday, candidates Bud Pierce, Bridget Barton, Stan Pulliam and Jessica Gomez took part in a debate hosted by City Club of Portland and moderated by KGW anchors Laural Porter and David Molko. Christine Drazan was scheduled to take part, but unexpectedly withdrew from the debate Tuesday and did not participate.

Democratic candidates Tina Kotek and Tobias Read participated in their own debate last week — you can read their responses and watch the full Democratic debate here.

In pitching himself to Oregon voters, Pierce said he's the best candidate for a three-way race that includes Betsy Johnson, a former Democratic state senator who is running as an unaffiliated candidate. Barton sold herself as a political outsider who will bring about the big changes conservative voters want to see, Pulliam touted his far-right conservative policies and leadership experience as mayor of Sandy, and Gomez pitched herself as the most electable Republican in a general election and said her business background sets her apart. 

Here are their answers to questions about four of the top issues facing Oregon. Due to time constraints and the number of candidates, not all candidates responded to each question. 

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Homeless crisis

What would you do as governor to help the thousands of people who are homeless move off the streets and on to a healthier path?

Jessica Gomez: The unsheltered homeless and what we see happening in our urban areas is the result of addiction and mental health. The question is what do we do about that? In this state we are number one in addiction and almost number 50 in actual services that people have access to, and if you talk to police officers, this is taking up 15-30% of their time. They are trying to work with people that are in crisis on our streets, and there's really only two options: they can take them to the ER or they can take them to jail. We need infrastructure. The plan that I have is based after the elderly care model, it's three levels of care, it's community based. First level is where you would have, let's say, your memory care patients, then assisted living and independent living. We need to start with our people that are struggling with addiction and mental health that are unsheltered, start them with the most secure level of care and get them healthy and stabilized. Then we've got to make it so we're not seeing people camping on our streets. 

Bud Pierce: I'd declare a substance use disorder and homeless emergency to get government on the same page. Shelters have to be available for every homeless person living on the street. Begin to address alcoholism, drug addiction, mental illness, begin to prepare people to enter the mainstream culture with lives of contribution rather than desperation. This is voluntary, but if people don't want to participate or won't and end up back on the street, then they will be breaking the law — it'd be illegal to camp on the streets and in the parks, on the riverbanks — at that point their choice would be a locked shelter or some form of incarceration until they will participate in improving their lives or they find private accommodations. 

Bridget Barton: This has been an abysmal failure, our homeless policy, and our career politicians should be ashamed. I bring some unique experience and expertise. I understand this at a gut level and at an intellectual level because I am 40 years in recovery. When I stopped drinking at 28, I was a chronic, round-the-clock alcoholic. I understand at a very deep level, what we are doing is backwards. We do not have a homeless problem, we primarily have a substance abuse problem on our streets, and we are enabling these people to commit slow suicide. This is not compassionate, it is absolutely inhumane. I would set up a database, then go to low-barrier homeless shelters that would push these people off the street and at least get a roof over their head. Then I would reallocate all this housing money back to treatment. We need to turn the housing first model on its head. We have created a homeless industrial complex and I will put an end to it, get the homeless off the street and get the problem solved. 

Stan Pulliam: Former Portland Mayor Bud Clark had a three-prong approach. First was to provide help to those who want it, second was to be firm with those who don't, and to create and foster safe and livable communities where small businesses and neighbors can thrive ... we're the only candidate putting attention on that second prong, being firm with those who don't. It's not people who want care and assistance stealing catalytic converters and creating this crime all over the state. We have a proposal to house an alternative location under that 9th Circuit [Martin v. Boise] ruling on Port of Portland property. We can have property there that we house folks, then we have our own police security firm. As governor we appoint the next [Port] commissioner, we can get security beefed up there and when those people break rules and the law, they go to jail. 

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Gun violence and policing

Do you feel safe walking through downtown Portland, and what specific steps would you take as governor to address safe streets and gun violence?

SP: I couldn't even go to downtown Portland for a campaign meeting Saturday without being confronted by Antifa. We called the police, it was almost 20 minutes before someone answered the phone. We were right across from their precinct and nobody responded, so I absolutely don't feel safe. I also want to push back on "gun violence." This isn't a gun problem. The guns aren't walking around and shooting themselves. We have a culture of criminality. In the 1970s we had 30 officers per 100,000 people, that number today is eight. We have proposals to triple the size of the state police. We've decriminalized hard drugs in this state, we've basically created a marketplace to buy and sell hard drugs and we allow the cartels to come through and fill the vacuum. We wonder why we have all the gang violence and problems on the street, exasperating our homelessness. We have strong proposals to address it, and absolutely I don't feel safe walking around the city of Portland. 

JG: It really depends on where you are, and that's just like any other city. We have a significant issue with public safety, and it's not just Portland, it's in other parts of our state. What are we going to do about that? I think we need to, if we're talking specifically about Portland, we've got to start with cleaning up that downtown area, getting rid of the blight and getting homeless off the street and into rehabilitation programs and preparing that city for reinvestment. If we want businesses to come back, we have to send the signal that we're stable and we're safe, it's absolutely vital. There are lots of people, no matter what community you live in, you should feel safe in your community. I think it starts with bringing back the pride in where you live, people want to feel proud about their city. We can get back to that and we will under my leadership. 

BP: Definitely not safe. My late wife and I purchased a second home in the Pearl 14 years ago, you could walk all over the place, day or night, it felt safe. We need to support the police much better, more police, better training, better equipment, a governor and a government that stands by their side. We need to have police that's aggressive in taking away weapons from drug cartels and gangs, we need to have programs so young people don't go into gangs, and have activities that are benefits to them and to society. We must get the homeless off the streets once and for all, and that whole criminal culture of homelessness, drug use, alcohol misuse. We have a lot of work to do and I'll get it done.

BB: Crime is skyrocketing completely out of control and continues to climb higher each year. It isn't just Portland, and I refuse to talk about it in terms of just Portland because it's all over the state. To be direct, yes I feel completely unsafe in downtown Portland, and at the age of 66 my husband and I finally had to go out and get a permit to register and get firearms, because of our expectation that we would not have law enforcement if we needed it. At the base of this, if you ask law enforcement across the state, the problem is substance abuse. The problem is that we passed Measure 110 which legalized hard drugs and it skyrocketed that substance abuse problem. I will get to the bottom of that, in my first year as governor I will marshal the forces necessary to refer that ballot measure back to the public. That has to be eliminated, almost every officer in the entire state agrees, or we are in trouble in this state. 

RELATED: On the issues: Candidates for Oregon governor respond to media survey

Education

A study from Brookings shows reading and math scores have dropped for U.S. students nationwide. What plan do you have for students to catch up?

BP: We have to work harder. We have to have enrichment programs during the summer, we might have to have programs after school. The fact is, even before the pandemic, we had one-third of students in Salem-Keizer in 11th grade at federal minimums for mathematics and reading, so we have so much to do in terms of education reform. For right now, we're going to have to double down on classroom participation, studies, study halls, rally the parents rally the teachers, rally society so students can catch up. We're down but we've got to fight back.

BB: Our public schools are in immediate need of triage, they are in shambles. I believe they estimate 30,000 students will have left public schools, escaping, and it's not because of the pandemic and we know it. It's because of the indoctrination of a very leftist agenda. That 30,000 number would be a lot higher if there were any room left in any private school in the state, which there's not, or if it didn't cost a fortune. I've been an advocate for 30 years for education reform. When I'm elected governor, first step — a new deputy superintendent of public instruction. Second, an absolute complete change of vision, focused on core academic excellence, new curriculums that will trickle down. 

JG: I really think that unless we are graduating kids that can be globally competitive, we are really going to be struggling as a state long-term, we're not going to be able to build the future we really want. My plan starts with the little kids, we need to make sure that they have the right support, access to small group instruction, that we're also giving parents the tools they need to help their children be successful. Then as we get into the later years and into high school, I want to put in place a statewide apprenticeship model. They're doing this in Wisconsin, North Carolina and Colorado, it's highly successful. Kids are graduating with work experience, a career pathway, college credit and are really employable right off the bat. 

Climate

None of you prominently mention any policy around climate change, but in Oregon we have seen the impacts of climate change in both rural and urban communities, including wildfires, drought and last year's heat wave that killed over 100 people. How concerned are you about impacts of climate change, if elected gov what would you do differently to tackle these challenges?

JG: Like many Oregonians, I am concerned about the impacts of climate change. In Oregon specifically we need to work on resilience. Oregonians have a special place for the environment in our hearts and I think it's important, we want to have an impact, but we're a small state. We need to align our public university systems and have them help us to develop new technology around methane pyrolysis, small modular nuclear reactors, things like battery storage, and then we can take that technology and export it to the rest of the world and have the kind of impact that we really want. Cap and trade and some of these restrictive things that raise cost actually doesn't achieve measurable outcomes when it comes to reducing or stopping the situation with climate change. We need to also work on water infrastructure in this state, we haven't made any significant investments in that in quite some time.

SP: We would not focus a lot of attention on a global climate crisis. We would focus our attention on jobs. They call it a global climate crisis for a reason, it's a global issue and politicians here in Oregon seem satisfied with resting our responsibility on the backs of hardworking rural Oregonians... We would love to put things online like the Jordan Cove project out in Coos Bay, that would've meant thousands of jobs for the folks in that area. What I'd like to see is — we need all kinds of renewable energies to come online but we need to not solve a global crisis on the backs of hardworking Oregonians, and we need to put jobs first. 

Watch the full debate on YouTube: