It started out amicably enough. Between making jokes about their passion for steak and the absence of fellow candidate Chris Dudley, three gubernatorial hopefuls – Allen Alley, Bill Bradbury and John Kitzhaber – participated this week in a peaceful debate about environmental issues. But when Bradbury brought up the implications of a major campaign contribution Kitzhaber had accepted from an “egregious polluter,” Kitzhaber’s angry response quickly changed the mood.
The debate was held in front of several hundred people at Portland State University and hosted by Environment Oregon, the Oregon Environmental Council, the Oregon League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club’s Oregon chapter. Alley, Bradbury and Kitzhaber – or as another attendee nicknamed them to me, “the engineer,” “the college professor” and “the cowboy” – were invited to share their views on the state’s environmental issues and take stances on some of the more controversial topics. And while the Democratic candidates tended to be more or less in agreement about the importance of increasing green energy use and sustainable timber harvesting, Alley made it clear from the beginning that he had a different approach to tackling environmental issues. “I look at it from an economic perspective,” Alley said. “We’ve made trade-offs over the last 25 years between the environment and the economy. I have to focus on getting the economy going.”
Questions on transportation came up several times, with a good amount of time devoted to the merits of mass transit and alternative-energy vehicles. Transportation was brought up again when a panelist asked whether or not the candidates support the divisive, 12-lane Columbia River Crossing plan. Bradbury was adamantly opposed, which incited approving applause from the crowd. While acknowledging the huge transportation issues Oregon faces, particularly for moving freight across the Columbia River, Bradbury said he would support instead a seismic upgrade on the current bridge, the creation of a new smaller bridge for bikes and foot traffic, and the implementation of tolls to control congestion. “I think that is a very sensible future and won’t cost so much and spend all the transportation dollars that we have in this state,” Bradbury said. Kitzhaber said the project should go forward without delay, but that he doesn’t support the current plan, while Alley said he though the bridge should be bigger – before telling the visibly shocked crowd that we was joking.