By editorial board • 

Little-known gubernatorial contender earns debate spot

Move over, Republican challenger Knute Buehler. You’ve no one but yourself to blame for falling 237 votes short of managing to bookend the GOP gubernatorial nomination with that of the Independent Party of Oregon.

Double for you, Democratic incumbent Kate Brown. That’s what happens when you limp in 3,131 votes behind Patrick Starnes, a Brownsville cabinetmaker who spent $3,900 on his campaign — the kind of sum you burn through before breakfast.

Because the IPO earned major party status three years ago, it appears you’re going to have to make room on the debate stage for rival candidate Starnes, whose previous forays into elective politics were limited to local school board and educational service district positions.

As the IPO notes, Oregon law makes it almost impossible for media outlets and nonprofit civic groups to exclude a major party candidate from any debates they sponsor. They can exclude candidates from the Pacific Green, Libertarian, Progressive and Working Families parties, but not the IPO — at least not without potentially serious consequences.

The obstacle is, sponsors engaging in selective invitations are deemed to have made reportable campaign contributions to the recipients. That’s something the IRS forbids for charitable and educational nonprofits and the FCC prohibits for media outlets.

And the IPO warns, “Our party intends to pursue all state and federal remedies available to us to ensure our candidate’s participation in these debates.”

There are some types of potential sponsors not subject to either IRS or FCC constraints. However, Oregon law still requires them to report their expenses as selective campaign contributions, which subjects them to a wave of unwelcome scrutiny.

We weren’t enamored of the crowded clown-car debates the Republican Party staged in the countdown to the 2016 presidential election.

But three’s the kind of crowd we can live with. In fact, we think it might be refreshing to hear a political novice offer some innovative and independent policy proposals not connected to Oregon’s powerful labor or business lobbies.

Starnes is making campaign finance reform a centerpiece. That’s something we have long championed as an antidote to the strident special-interest partisanship permeating American politics today.

And because he’s free of dependence on Big Business and Big Labor to fund a multimillion-dollar campaign, he’s also permitted to take more centrist and nuanced positions on a wide range of traditional issues in Oregon politics.

Pass the popcorn. Let the show begin.

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