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Top Oregon gubernatorial candidates meet for first debate

Democratic nominee Tina Kotek, Republican nominee Christine Drazan and nonaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson participated in the 90-minute debate.

SALEM, Ore. — The leading candidates in Oregon's gubernatorial race on Friday used the first debate of the campaign as an opportunity to defines themselves.

The Statesman Journal reports that over the 90-minute debate, candidates received questions from a panel of newspaper editors during a meeting of the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association.

Former House Speaker Tina Kotek is the Democratic nominee. Former House Republican Leader Christine Drazan is the Republican nominee. Former Sen. Betsy Johnson is running as a nonaffiliated candidate.

Drazan and Johnson largely pitched themselves as “change” candidates who would bring a different perspective to a governor’s office that has been held by Democrats since 1987, Drazan by being a balance on Democratic control and ideas, and Johnson by rejecting both parties, which she said have become “too extreme.”

Kotek promoted herself as the most experienced candidate who knows what needs to be fixed and has the track record proving her ability to get things done.

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Each candidate was also given an opportunity to ask one other candidate a question: Johnson to Kotek, Drazan to Johnson and Kotek to Drazan.

Johnson asked: “Without saying the phrase 10-year-plan or 5-year-plan, what would you do in the first year of getting elected governor to end tent cities and why hasn’t it happened already?”

Kotek responded by saying her immediate actions would be to send more outreach teams onto the streets to build relationships with homeless people and get them into shelters with an eye toward eventual permanency. However, this plan would also require additional shelter space, navigation centers and mental health and addiction services statewide, she said.

“I’ve worked hard to get shelters funded and build new shelters and make sure people can move from tents to shelters to permanency and get the services they need, and we need more of that,” Kotek said.

Drazan asked Johnson: “You voted for the corporate activity tax. Since that time you have been very public about the fact that you regret that vote, you wish you hadn’t taken that vote. What I would like to know is: Did you not know at that moment to vote ‘no?’” Why did you vote yes?”

RELATED: What is the 'massive sales tax' referenced in a Christine Drazan ad?

Johnson responded by saying lawmakers have failed to apply sufficient oversight of spending in the state, including of the Student Success Act, which the corporate activity tax funded (both were passed in 2019). She said the legislation that led to the tax was rushed and not thoroughly debated in public.

“In the end, my belief that we needed to have more money in education was substantiated by my vote,” Johnson said. “As governor, I would work to modify the punitive effects of the corporate activity tax."

Lastly, Kotek asked Drazan: “You’ve been asked many, many times about the 2020 election and each time you’ve pivoted when asked. You’ve never directly answered the question, as far as I know, you have never publicly said that Donald Trump lost the presidency in the national election. Not just in Oregon, but nationally. So, will you say today that the results of the national election in 2020 were legitimate and that Donald Trump lost?”

“As it relates to the 2020 election, there has never been an issue for that with me. Donald Trump did not win. Joe Biden did. He is our president,” Drazan said.

Drazan responded by saying that she is focused on Oregon and is not running for a federal elected position.

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