By editorial board • 

One issue stands out at ONPA gubernatorial candidate forum

The Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association set aside an hour of its annual conference last month to hear from the state’s guberatorial candidates. The outcome was unsurprising. 

Democratic Gov. Kate Brown declined the invitation to speak. It would have required her to drive to Redmond and back on a Friday. But even if it was held in her backyard, she likely would have declined, given her penchant for avoiding crowds critical of her job performance thus far. Oregon newspapers, including this one, are among her most vocal critics. 

Republican candidate and state legislator Knute Buehler presented a polished stump speech of talking points, including his promise to not sign any spending bills until a Public Employees Retirement System reform bill was on his desk. His platform is cloaked in an “Anyone But Brown” message. Buehler strikes a moderate balance on most issues for an Oregon GOP candidate. He has credentials to be Oregon’s next top executive. However, he needs to show voters he’s actually the best person for the job instead of relying on a strategy simply attacking Brown.

And then there was the Independent Party candidate, quirky and genuine in an non-political manner. He also admitted to the newspaper crowd he’s a one-issue candidate, but that issue permeates throughout all of Oregon’s current ills. 

That issue is campaign finance reform. And Patrick Starnes makes a good point. 

Starnes is a cabinetmaker from the southern Willamette Valley who has served on local school boards. He fended off both Brown and Buehler for the Independent Party of Oregon nomination. (Candidates can seek nominations from multiple parties in Oregon.) Starnes’ chances to be the next governor may be about the same as one of us winning Powerball, but that doesn’t mean his presence on the ballot can’t make a difference. 

Oregonians approved Measure 47 in 2006, which created limits on donations from individuals, union corporations or other entities. Measure 46, however, which would have amended the state’s constitution to implement Measure 47 limits, was defeated. 

There won’t be a similar measure this November, but campaign finance reformers like Starnes will submit one in the near future.

Any of Oregon’s major shortfalls — PERS, social services, transportation, tax structure reform — cannot be addressed until the influence of big money is removed from elections, Starnes said. 

It seems campaign finance reform would be an easy sell in a state like Oregon, a leader in grassroots political organization for generations. 

So while swimming through the constant attack ads from the Brown and Buehler camps this fall, take heed of the message from the “little guy” in the election. Take note of how much money is spent in our elections and where that money comes from. You’re likely to agree with what Starnes has to say.

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