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JON HOUSE/PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP - GOP gubernatorial candidate Bud Pierce makes a point during a debate with Gov. Kate Brown Friday at the City Club of Portland. Laura Gunderson, of the Oregonian, served as moderator.PORTLAND — GOP gubernatorial nominee William “Bud” Pierce and Gov. Kate Brown covered new ground, including women’s issues, in their second debate Friday at the Democratic-leaning City Club of Portland.

Pierce, a Salem oncologist and political newbie, is seeking to unseat Brown, a former secretary of state who inherited the governorship when former Gov. John Kitzhaber stepped down in February 2015 amid an influence-peddling scandal. While Brown has been in politics for more than two decades, this is Brown’s first bid at election to the governor’s office.

The candidates faced each other at downtown Portland’s Sentinel hotel, where Brown found a sympathetic audience in a standing room only venue.

The debate was a role reversal since the first gubernatorial debate Sept. 25 in Bend, where Pierce draws support from Eastern Oregon’s more conservative political climate. This time, Pierce drew boos from the Portland-based crowd when he answered questions about gun control, violence against women and equal pay.

Moderator Laura Gunderson of The Oregonian asked a city club member’s question about what the candidates would do to improve the lot of women. A report last week by the Women’s Foundation of Oregon found that Oregon women are more likely to be victims of sexual assault than the national average and continue to be victims of domestic violence.

Pierce said policies should empower women with access to education and good jobs. “A woman that has great education and training and a great job is not susceptible to this kind of abuse by men,” Pierce said.

The comment drew a crescendo of boos from the crowd, and Brown turned and covered her mouth in a display of shock.

“I’m honestly not sure where to start,” Brown said in her rebuttal. “I grew up in a middle-class family. I went to law school. I know what it feels like to be paid less, substantially less, than the male lawyer in the office next to me. This is not just about power. It’s about making sure that people aren’t discriminated against because of their gender, because of their race and because of their sexual orientation.”

Pierce later clarified that he meant that women who are well educated and have more resources are less likely to be victims of domestic violence. “Powerful women have access to lawyers and courts,” Pierce said. “Women who are most vulnerable are poor women who don’t have a place to turn.”

Sidestepping question

The debate also served as a de facto mouthpiece for another high-dollar campaign raging in Oregon: The battle over Measure 97, a corporate sales tax proposal advanced by a coalition of unions and community groups. If passed, the tax proposal would represent the largest tax increase in the state’s history.

The measure, which proposes taxing "C" corporations on Oregon sales exceeding $25 million, is expected to raise $3 billion a year.

Asked what the tax’s flaws were, Brown started talking about how important it is that voters pass the measure, sidestepping the question entirely.

“The most important thing we can do is pass Ballot Measure 97,” Brown said. “Oregon needs adequate and stable revenue for keeping state services like early childhood education, CTE and STEAM, and removing barriers for children to attend universities and community colleges.

“There are no other viable options,” she added.

Pierce said the measure is a poor attempt at tax reform, and he said he is concerned the revenue will be used to address the Public Employees Retirement system’s $21 billion unfunded liability, rather than reforming the system.

“If Measure 97 passes, we have to make sure that we don’t simply pour lots of money into an unfunded PERS system so the money is consumed by that and we don’t come back five years later with the same kind of challenges,” Pierce said.

Friday was the second of five debates between the two candidates. The third debate is scheduled for Oct. 6 in Eugene.

By Paris Achen
Portland Tribune Capital Bureau Reporter
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