- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 5, 2016

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - Oregonians will see where Democratic Gov. Kate Brown and Republican Bud Pierce stand on certain issues and policies facing rural areas during public debate on Sept. 24, seven weeks before Election Day.

The gubernatorial debate in Bend, Ore. was announced Tuesday by the Society of Professional Journalists’ Oregon chapter, and marks the first such event that Brown has agreed to so far ahead of the November election.

The SPJ chapter, which is co-hosting the event with three other local media outlets, is catering the entire, hour-long discussion to issues facing the state’s plethora of rural communities.

“The Oregon Territory SPJ believes it is important to have an honest and open exchange at the highest levels about the state’s future in rural areas,” Oregon SPJ President Samantha Swindler said in a statement. “With more than a month between this debate and election day, we hope the issues raised will help give voters enough time to learn where the two major candidates stand on a range of rural issues, from the environment to education to the economy.”

The candidates are trying to win the favor of Oregonian voters, who will decide which of the two should finish the last half of former Gov. John Kitzhaber’s four-year term that he vacated in February 2015 amid influence-peddling allegations involving his fiancĂ©.

Brown, who was secretary of state when she assumed Kitzhaber’s job, has been facing repeated criticism by political observers and news editorial boards across Oregon in recent weeks for declining the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association’s July 22 debate - traditionally the kick-off to gubernatorial races that’ll instead have a solo appearance this year by Pierce.

Her campaign says Brown is focused on her current duties as governor, and late last month said she’d be willing to participate in three debates after Sept. 1. Pierce, an oncologist from Salem and inexperienced politician, has called for a series of six debates beginning this month, which mirrors previous elections.

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