- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 21, 2014

MEDFORD, Ore. (AP) - In their sixth and final debate, Republican gubernatorial challenger state Rep. Dennis Richardson tried to turn up the heat on Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber, repeatedly using the word “corruption” in connection with a consulting business operated by Kitzhaber’s fiancee.

“He thinks it’s OK that his first lady and senior adviser would triple her income in one year, receiving payments from companies that wanted access to her government connections,” Richardson said Monday night in the studios of KOBI television in Medford. “Governor, that’s not OK. That’s corruption.”

Kitzhaber responded that Cylvia Hayes had a successful consulting business before he was elected four years ago, that they created a set of guidelines and protocols for her business, and that he has called on the state Ethics Commission to confirm those guidelines and protocols were proper.

“We are taking an allegation that is undocumented and unproved and treating it as fact,” Kitzhaber said. “Someone who is desperate enough to go down that route, it raises serious questions in my mind about what they have to offer Oregon except for the fact that they are not me.”

Kitzhaber had appeared to be cruising to re-election to his fourth term, but lately has suffered a series of setbacks, though he has held on to his position as front-runner.

A year ago Richardson, a state representative from southern Oregon, opened his campaign criticizing Kitzhaber for the failure of the Cover Oregon health insurance website to get up and running, and continued that theme in the debate, noting the website has been taken over by the federal government. Kitzhaber responded that Cover Oregon has made it possible for 95 percent of Oregonians to have health insurance, adding that he expected to recover the money spent on creating the failed website in a lawsuit.

More recently, Kitzhaber’s fiancee has acknowledged that she accepted money to enter a fraudulent marriage with an immigrant seeking to remain in the United States, and was later involved in a plan to grow marijuana on a remote property in Washington state. There have also been reports she used her position as first lady to advance her private consulting business.

Kitzhaber acknowledged that voters should consider the ethical questions raised about his administration, adding that he expected to be fully exonerated, as he was in the 1990s on allegations that he should not have accepted speaking fees on health care while a state senator.

Kitzhaber in turn repeatedly reminded voters of Richardson’s longstanding opposition to abortion and gay marriage, noting that while in the Legislature he introduced 11 bills to limit abortion.

“I am not putting us into categories, but embracing all categories,” he said.

Richardson responded that those social issues have been settled, and as governor he would enforce the law.

“It’s not going to be part of the agenda while I’m governor,” he said. “We will be focusing on our economy, jobs, education, and restoring trust and accountability in government office.”

Kitzhaber said Richardson’s plans to provide money for education first before going on to other budget items, getting rid of the Common Core curriculum and creating an office of lieutenant governor to promote overseas trade would not create more jobs in Oregon.

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