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Environment, social issues join others in contention.

Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber and Republican rival Dennis Richardson rehashed some old arguments and refined some new ones during their latest campaign debate Tuesday night.

In addition to arguments over the economy, education, health care and transportation funding, they traded new jabs over environmental and social issues.

The hourlong debate, sponsored by Portland TV station KGW and The Oregonian, was the fourth for Kitzhaber and Richardson. They have also appeared together at three newspaper editorial boards, including Sept. 22 at the Pamplin Media Group/EO Media Group.

Their final debate is scheduled at 7 p.m. Oct. 20 on Medford TV station KOBI.

Ballots for the Nov. 4 election start arriving in the mail this week.

Kitzhaber, a former emergency-room physician, is seeking a fourth nonconsecutive term as governor. He was governor from 1995 to 2003, then won a record third term in 2010.

Richardson is a lawyer and six-term state representative from Southern Oregon.

A poll released Tuesday by Oregon Public Broadcasting/Fox Channel 12 and conducted by DHM Research showed Kitzhaber with 50 percent, Richardson with 29 percent. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.

Jabs over Kitzhaber fiancee

The poll was conducted as news disclosures about Kitzhaber’s fiancée were breaking.

The candidates traded new jabs over Cylvia Hayes, who was identified in a news story on Portland TV station KOIN as being involved in the 1997 purchase of land in Washington intended for an illegal marijuana operation.

Last week, she confirmed a story in Willamette Week that in 1997, she entered into a sham marriage to enable an 18-year-old Ethiopian immigrant to stay in the United States. They divorced in 2002, after which she began dating Kitzhaber, then in the final year of his second term.

“Some of it (disclosures) has been very hard to assimilate,” Kitzhaber says. “I don’t condone it. I wished it hadn’t happened, but it did.”

“We shouldn’t be focusing on what happened 17 years ago, because that is between Cylvia Hayes and law enforcement,” Richardson says of the latest disclosure.

But Richardson says the focus should be on a Willamette Week story raising questions about whether Hayes used her official role as first lady and as an adviser to Kitzhaber for personal gain, which is barred by state ethics laws.

Kitzhaber has asked the Oregon Government Ethics Commission, which enforces ethics laws, to review the matter.

“She will not have a role in this administration until all the relevant questions are answered,” he says.

But Richardson says it reflects a “character issue.”

Last week, he called for a special prosecutor, although ethics investigations are handled by the commission, four of whose seven members are designees of the Legislature. Violations of the ethics law are not classified as crimes.

Asked later about whether tax incentives are appropriate to encourage development of alternative energy, Richardson alluded to Hayes’ career as an energy consultant.

“I think it depends on who his senior adviser is going to be on energy,” he says.

Division over coal exports

As they did in a City Club of Portland debate Friday, Richardson supports and Kitzhaber opposes coal exports to Asia via Oregon railroads and ports.

Asia will get coal, Richardson says, “whether they get it from some other location, where they are not as concerned about the environment as we are — or that we use environmental safeguards to provide it and transport it in an environmentally sound way while we create hundreds of jobs.”

An Australian company is appealing the denial of a state permit to build a coal-loading dock at Boardman, where coal mined in Wyoming and Montana would be loaded onto barges bound for ocean-going ships at the Port of St. Helens on the Columbia River.

Kitzhaber says the particulates and mercury resulting from coal burning in Asia will wind up on the West Coast.

“It makes no sense to me to subsidize the burning of fossil fuels in Asia while we adopt state and federal policies that do just the opposite,” he says.

“There are other forms of energy we can use to transition to a low-carbon future. Coal is not one of them.”

Social issues

Richardson was asked several times about whether his conservative stances on social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage put him out of step with a majority of Oregonians and Portland-area voters.

Richardson opposes abortion rights and voted against a 2007 law expanding domestic partnerships for same-sex couples. A federal judge in May overturned a ban on same-sex marriages that voters approved in 2004.

“I am happy that the issue of (same-sex) marriage has been resolved once and for all, and we can move on,” he says. “What I have to say to gay couples now is congratulations.”

“I’m glad you have arrived there,” Kitzhaber responded. "It took awhile, but welcome to the crowd.”

Kitzhaber’s stances are the opposite of Richardson’s.

Later, Kitzhaber said Richardson also is out of step with Oregonians when it comes to organizing in the workplace and protecting the environment.

Driver cards

Richardson and Kitzhaber also are on opposite sides of Measure 88, which asks voters whether four-year driver cards should be issued regardless of immigration status. The cards, half the length of an eight-year driver license, would go to those who qualify on knowledge and skills tests but cannot prove legal presence in the United States.

“To say we are going to create a special exception for those who are here illegally because it’s a compassionate thing to do violate the law that we have,” says Richardson, who voted against the bill passed by the 2013 Legislature.

Kitzhaber signed it into law, but opponents mustered enough signatures to force a statewide election on it.

“They deserve the right to drive safely to and from work, take their kids to the doctor and go to church,” Kitzhaber says. “If we believe there is a path for them, it surely must include taking care of their family. This is part of our larger commitment to equity and opportunity in this state.”

Agreement on GMOs

Not every moment was contentious.

Richardson did not specifically endorse Measure 92, but said he supports the right of consumers to know what is in their food.

Its approval by voters on Nov. 4 would make Oregon the second state, after Vermont, to require labeling of food containing genetically modified organisms.

Kitzhaber says he probably will vote for the measure.

“But I think the international markets are going to determine that for us,” he says. “I think they want non-GMO products in Asia and the European Union, and we are going to move in that direction anyway.”

Kitzhaber has set up a panel to study other questions involving GMOs, recognizing that some sectors of agriculture are dependent on them and others do not want to be involved with them. The panel is to issue a report before the 2015 session on whether coexistence is possible.

“I actually like the fact that the governor has set up a task force to study it,” Richardson says.

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Adds section on their stances on Measure 88; clarifies that final debate is Oct. 20; specifies that KOIN originated a story about Cylvia Hayes.

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