SALEM, Ore. — The three women who want to be Oregon's next governor clashed Tuesday over gun control and other hot-button issues at an in-person debate, just six weeks before election day.
Democratic nominee and former Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek set the tone earlier Tuesday by tweeting a video saying that an election victory by either Republican candidate Christine Drazan or unaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson would usher in “a right-wing Oregon.”
Kotek was alone in saying she would support a gun-control measure that has received enough voter signatures to get on the November ballot. Johnson and Drazan said they oppose it. The measure would require people wanting to purchase a gun to first qualify for a permit and is one of the strictest gun-control measures in the nation.
The epidemic of mass shootings in the nation recently hit the city where the debate was held, at Oregon State University-Cascades, in Bend, Oregon. The town near the Cascade Range was the scene of a shooting at a supermarket on Aug. 28 in which the gunmen fired more than 100 rounds, killing two people before fatally shooting himself.
“What happened in Bend was an absolute tragedy. Someone facing extreme mental health challenges was intent on hurting others and was effectively able to do so. It’s a tragedy any time that it happens. But more gun laws will not prevent every single tragedy from happening,” Drazan said.
Johnson said the measure would unduly burden rural police departments. Applicants would apply for the permit from the local police chief, county sheriff or their designees. But Johnson said she would support raising the minimum purchasing age for certain weapons from 18 to 21.
The high number of people in Oregon who are houseless and the high cost of housing was also a point of contention among the candidates, who were seated in orange armchairs.
Drazan, a former GOP state lawmaker, blames Kotek and Johnson for a homeless crisis.
The abortion issue has become a potential liability for GOP candidates, including Drazan, following the Supreme Court’s decision to remove constitutional abortion protections. Most Oregon voters favor abortion rights.
Drazan has said there's no reason to include her position against abortion in her campaign issue roadmap, but told Oregon Public Broadcasting she supports “common-sense regulations on abortion, including protecting life in the third trimester.”
Johnson is pro-choice and a strong supporter of the Constitutional right to own firearms.
“I believe that a woman has a right to bear arms, and I believe she has a right to make a decision to bear children,” Johnson said in an interview last spring.
In a Fox News interview earlier this week, Johnson, a former veteran lawmaker, disparaged Kotek as “tent city Tina” due to widespread homelessness that has blighted parts of Portland. She also criticized Drazan's anti-abortion stance.
It was the second televised debate for the three candidates, with Democrats lacking a lock on this race. Johnson, who used to belong to the Republican party and then was a Democrat, is seen as a potential spoiler. Two national election-watching groups rated the race as a toss-up.
There are 1 million registered Democrats and 729,000 registered Republicans in Oregon. But there are also 1 million registered voters claiming no party affiliation. Which way they swing come Nov. 8 could be decisive in whether a Republican will be Oregon's governor for the first time since 1987, or an independent since 1937.
Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, can't run again because of term limits.