Children First for Oregon and their partners agreed to invite Patrick Starnes, Independent Party of Oregon nominee for governor, after IPO officials threatened legal action if their candidate was excluded.

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP - Candidates Patrick Starnes, Gov. Kate Brown and Knute Buehler will all take part in the Children First gubernatorial debate. It's the first time the independent candidate has been invited to a televised debateAll three major political party candidates have been invited to the first of three major gubernatorial debates before the Nov. 6 general election.

Children First for Oregon, along with television station KOIN and Pamplin Media Group, will host the first major debate of the election season Oct. 2 with an atypical format: Children will pose all of the questions to the three candidates.

Incumbent Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, will face off with GOP nominee Rep. Knute Buehler, a Bend orthopedic surgeon, and Independent Party of Oregon nominee Patrick Starnes, a cabinet maker from Brownsville.

The "Debate for Oregon's Future" marks the first time Oregon children and youth will ask all of the questions in a gubernatorial debate, according to Children First for Oregon, an nonprofit child advocacy organization.

"We are so excited about the opportunity to highlight the voices and questions and issues impacting children's lives through this debate," said Tonia Hunt, executive director of Children First for Oregon. "This is a great opportunity to hear directly from young people in Oregon about what is happening to them and what issues matter to them on a day-to-day basis but also how that affects their future."

Children First for Oregon is accepting applications on its website from children and youth who would like to participate. Applicants can apply online at as well as submit a question and learn how to submit a 30-second application video.

The event "will be a lot more interesting and informative for voters than traditional debates, partly because it will be tougher for the candidates to blow off questions from young people or switch to prepared talking points," said John Schrag, executive editor at Pamplin Media Group.

"We want young people from every part of the state to participate in the Debate for Oregon's Future so the issues that may be unique to eastern, central, southern and coastal Oregon are also raised with the candidates," Tonia Hunt, executive director, Children First for Oregon, said. "It's easy to submit a question online and we encourage everyone to participate."

KOIN 6 anchor Jeff Gianola and Portland Tribune education reporter Shasta Kearns Moore will facilitate the questions and give participants advance tips on how to make sure the candidates answer their questions, Hunt said. The debate is scheduled for 7 to 8 p.m. in the Portland area at a venue to be determined. The debate will be broadcast live by KOIN.

The Independent Party has threatened legal action if debate hosts fail to include their nominee in debates. Party officials cited a relatively new law that requires hosts to either invite all statewide candidates from all major political parties to public debates and forums, or alternatively, report a campaign contribution to the candidates who were allowed to participate.

The campaign finance law, adopted in 2017, requires disclosure of $750 or more of spending by individuals and nonprofit groups that reference, and effectively campaign for or against, a candidate within 60 days of a general election. Previously, people and groups had to report that type of spending only when they included specific words such as "elect" or "vote for" in public communications. House Bill 2505 exempts from the requirement nonpartisan candidate debates or forums "when all major party candidates for the state office have been invited to participate."

The IPO became Oregon's third major political party in 2015 after party members accounted for more than 5 percent of those registered to vote in the 2014 general election. Schrag said his initial reluctance to include Starnes in the debate stemmed from wanting to give maximum time to candidates who have orchestrated a serious campaign such as raising a significant amount of money.

"For me, it's a math issue: There will be only a few televised governor candidate forums this year, and each forum has a hard start and stop time, which means there is a finite number of minutes for questions and responses," Schrag said.

Starnes said he had not been invited to debates Oct. 4 by KOBI-TV in Medford and Oct. 9 hosted by KGW-TV and The Oregonian, as of Thursday, Aug. 23.

"I am hoping this breaks the logjam loose," Starnes said. "I'm looking forward to the debate, especially hearing the questions from the young people of Oregon because they aren't going to ask the questions we usually get, and we are going to have to explain things in a way they can understand. It's going to make it more real and more basic."

Paris Achen
Portland Tribune Capital Bureau
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