Every four years, the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association kicks off what is usually a string of debates between the two major party candidates for governor.
On May 20, three days after Dr. Bud Pierce defeated the better-known Allen Alley for the GOP nomination for governor, the ONPA sent out invitations to Pierce and incumbent Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat.
But Pierce will be onstage alone at the July 22 event at the ONPA's annual gathering at the Oregon Garden Resort in Silverton.
As the East Oregonian first reported yesterday, Brown has declined to appear, despite having more than two months to prepare for the event.
On the one hand, it's not unusual for the favorite in a top-of-the ticket event to dodge a less-well-known challenger, but there are a couple of reasons why Brown's no-show is a little surprising.
First, she took office Feb. 18, 2015, after former Gov. John Kitzhaber's resignation, and she is now running to fill out the balance of Kitzhaber's term, which concludes at the end of 2018. So although she's running as an incumbent, this campaign is her first chance to make the case to voters she deserves to be governor. Skipping a debate, especially one that's as long-standing tradition as is the ONPA event, is a funny way to make that case.
Second, Brown has not advanced much of an agenda in her 16 months in office and has been positively Sphinx-like in her refusal to take a position on the biggest issue of the day, Initiative Petition 28, the proposed tax increase on corporations with Oregon sales of more than $25 million a year.
Pierce's campaign manager, Nick Rhoten, says Pierce is disappointed that Brown is ducking him.
"It falls into the narrative that she's been less than transparent with the people of Oregon," Rhoten says. "She has been unwilling to go on the record about issues, and this is an example of her not respecting the democratic process."
Laurie Hieb, the executive director of the ONPA, says that Pierce accepted the invitation to debate on May 20, the day invitations went out. A representative of Brown's campaign emailed Hieb on June 9, declining the invitation, saying that Brown needed to focus on her official duties. Hieb says that in the past 30 years, the only other candidate who declined to appear at the ONPA debate was Republican Chris Dudley, who lost to Kitzhaber in 2010.
"We were disappointed, to say the least," Hieb says of Brown's decision. "She wasn't elected and the voters and the newspapers who cover this state on a daily basis should be allowed the opportunity to hear her thoughts and direction for moving Oregon forward."
Brown's campaign did not respond to a request for comment.