Oregon governor candidates stretch the truth in late ad pushes

The two prime candidates for Oregon governor are releasing multiple television and social media ads in the final days of the campaign. Some make misleading and sometimes inaccurate claims.

Gov. Kate Brown, the Democratic incumbent, and state Rep. Knute Buehler, her Republican challenger, are funneling millions into advertising in the most expensive governor’s race in state history.

“What we are seeing now is the candidates trying to define who their opponent is,” said Jim Moore, director of the Tom McCall Center for Policy Innovation at Pacific University. “It is not so much lying, but the context is completely wrong.”

Brown, for instance, released an ad Oct. 16 that ties Buehler to Donald Trump, flashing images of the president and U.S. Supreme Court appointee Brett Kavanaugh.

But last year, Buehler disclosed in a Facebook post that he didn’t vote for Trump. Instead, he wrote in the name Ohio Gov. John Kasich for president.

Buehler has repeatedly criticized Trump’s policies and conduct in other interviews and on social media. He also called on Trump to withdraw Kavanaugh’s nomination as the Senate confirmation hearing unfolded.

“With nothing positive to say about her own record or her vision for Oregon, Kate Brown has completely overplayed her hand with a ridiculous and 100 percent false attack against Knute Buehler comparing Knute to Donald Trump,” wrote Jordan Conger, Buehler’s campaign policy director, in an email. “There are legitimate issues and differences to debate in the race for governor; this is not one of them.”

Buehler’s campaign, meanwhile, in an ad earlier this month, claimed that revenue from a new payroll tax to fund mass transit services – which Brown supported – forces workers in the rest of the state to pay for Portland service.

“Kate Brown has always been a politician who thinks about Portland first and the rest of Oregon last,” Troutdale resident Kelly Fisher says in the ad. “Why else would Brown raise a payroll tax on a working person like me to pay for Portland’s mass transit system?”

Christian Gaston, Brown’s campaign spokesman, said the ad on the transit tax is “completely false” and “based on a lie.”

“This whole campaign has been a constant barrage of misinformation from Knute Buehler and Priority Oregon (political action committee),” Gaston said. “It has been really difficult to push out fact checks fast enough.”

In fact, the taxes paid by employees in densely populated areas, such as Portland, help pay for transit services in sparsely populated areas such as Gilliam and Harney counties, said Karyn Criswell, a state transportation project manager.

About 42 jurisdictions around the state get money from the transit tax. Sixteen cover areas with so few workers that they get $50,000 a year from the state as a base, Criswell said.

Conger said the ad is accurate because as a Troutdale resident, Kelly’s payroll taxes go toward TriMet, which provides transit services largely to Portland. But TriMet maps show service is also offered to Troutdale.

In ads aired recently, Brown’s campaign stated that Buehler wants to restrict access to abortion.

The campaign and some pro-choice advocates have offered as evidence Buehler’s vote against the state’s Reproductive Equity Act in 2017. The act, among other things, expanded reproductive health care to undocumented immigrants.

Buehler has said repeatedly he is pro-choice and would make no changes to the state’s abortion laws, which are among the least restrictive in the nation.

“Yes, he voted against that act, but does that mean he is not pro-choice? Heck, no,” said Moore, the state political scientist from Pacific University. “He is definitely pro-choice. He just didn’t take this further step.

“When you look at any major Republican candidate, he is a wild radical on choice.”

Buehler’s campaign also takes issue with an ad by Brown’s campaign that said Buehler voted to “take coverage away from … hundreds of thousands of Oregonians.”

The ad refers to Buehler’s vote against a bill to enact a mix of health care provider taxes to temporarily fund the Oregon Health Plan, the state’s version of Medicaid.

The taxes hit hospitals, insurers, the Public Employees Benefits Board and coordinated health care organizations, which are regional networks of Oregon Health Plan providers.

Buehler did vote against the taxes because he felt they were “unfair and targeted small businesses and school districts while exempting large corporations,” Conger said.

He wanted a longer-term solution for funding health care and with other legislators proposed legislation to do so. Their ideas never made it to a vote.

Gaston defended Brown’s ads as focusing “narrowly on actions Buehler has taken.”

“His campaign is about … selling this image of himself as a candidate that is different from what he has done as a legislator,” Gaston said.

In another ad, Buehler’s campaign said that Brown “cut career-focused education by 43 percent.”

The claim refers to voter-approved Measure 98 in 2016. The ballot measure dedicated about $150 million per year toward high school career-technical education and other programs to boost the graduation rate.

A year later, Brown proposed increasing career-technical education funding by $75 million a year — not the full amount approved by voters. Legislators, including Buehler, ultimately passed a budget that instead allocated $85 million a year for career-technical education funding.

Buehler voted against the state education budget for several reasons, including that short funding of career education, his campaign said.

“He thought at the time that was the more appropriate time to present that message, and frankly, he wanted to make sure some funding on Measure 98 made it through,” Conger said in a phone interview with the Oregon Capital Bureau.

Conger defended calling the funding for Measure 98 a cut.

“Voters recognized this as a priority and made the funding available for it, and even then, she proposed cutting it in half,” Conger said. “If cutting voter-approved funding doesn’t amount to a cut, I don’t know what will.”

Gaston called the ad “complete trash politics.”

“It’s galling that (Buehler) has the temerity to say we are doing anything but stating the truth about his record, when he is saying Governor Brown cut CTE (career-technical education) funding,” Gaston said.

Buehler’s ad also implied that Brown’s policies contributed to Oregon’s third-worst graduation rate in the nation.

Oregon already held that distinction before Brown became governor. Since she took office in February 2015, the graduation rate has inched up slightly but not enough to change the state’s third-worst national ranking.

Paris Achen: [email protected] or 503-363-0888. Achen is a reporter for the Portland Tribune working for the Oregon Capital Bureau, a collaboration of EO Media Group, Pamplin Media Group and Salem Reporter. Malheur Enterprise editor Les Zaitz manages the capital bureau.