- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 15, 2014

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber and Republican state Rep. Dennis Richardson were both on the defensive Tuesday night, Kitzhaber for his fiancee’s business and Richardson for his views on social issues as the candidates for Oregon governor met in their fifth debate.

Revelations about Kitzhaber’s fiancee, Cylvia Hayes, have overshadowed the campaign for nearly a week. Under scrutiny from reporters, Hayes has acknowledged that she was involved in plans to grow marijuana and that she accepted money for a fraudulent marriage in the 1990s.

But in Tuesday’s debate, Richardson tried to keep the focus on the intersection between Hayes’ consulting business and her role as first lady, suggesting at one point that Hayes was “on the take,” drawing gasps from some in the audience.

“We shouldn’t be focusing on what happened 17 years ago, because that’s between Cylvia Hayes and law enforcement,” Richardson said. “But it’s a character issue and it plays into what’s happening presently.”

Kitzhaber said her business arrangements were rigorously reviewed for conflicts, although public records show the review came only after she began the work. He denied that he had pressured his senior staff to water down restrictions on Hayes’ use of state resources for her private work.

Saying he was “concerned about the perception,” Kitzhaber has asked an ethics commission to investigate. He said Hayes won’t do any more work for his administration until the questions are resolved.

“The intent was the abundance of caution to make sure that we met the letter, spirit and the intent of ethics laws,” Kitzhaber said. “I believe that we did, and that’s why we turned the records over to the Oregon ethics commission and asked them to review those processes and procedures.”

The debate, sponsored by KGW and The Oregonian, was the candidates’ fifth meeting and the one with perhaps the highest stakes. It was broadcast to a live, prime-time television audience in the state’s largest media market, just days before voters receive their ballots in Oregon’s all-mail election.

The platform was especially important for Richardson, who is behind in polls and isn’t well-known in the populous Willamette Valley.

Richardson was repeatedly asked to defend his views on social issues. He opposes abortion and gay marriage but has maintained that he won’t stand in the way of Oregon’s relatively liberal laws on those subjects, even though he disagrees.

“I am happy that the issue of marriage has been resolved once and for all,” Richardson said. “We can move on.”

Kitzhaber said social issues are a key difference between the candidates.

“I think it’s important for women to have control over their own reproductive choices,” Kitzhaber said. “I think it’s important for Oregonians to be able to marry the person they love.”

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