PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Young people questioned Oregon's main gubernatorial candidates on topics ranging from foster care to gun restrictions to bullying at the candidates' first debate in Portland Tuesday evening.
Democratic Gov. Kate Brown, Republican Knute Buehler and Patrick Starnes of the Independent Party met at the event dubbed the Debate for our Future.
The candidates sparred most intensely over the topic of education funding specifically related to underrepresented groups such as Native Americans.
Buehler said the single biggest failure of Brown's administration was that not enough money was getting into the classroom because too much of it goes to state and local government employees' pension plans.
Brown said she was proud of a measure that allowed tribal elders to teach native languages in public schools to all students and that by significantly investing in underserved communities, graduation rates have gone up.
Later, 15-year-old Rose Lawrence from Portland repeatedly asked the candidates what they would do as governor to make schools safe for LGBTQ youth after saying she didn't think the candidates had answered her question.
Brown mentioned among other ideas an anti-bullying policy for safe and secure schools and encouraged students to speak out. Buehler said he'd continue the good work of Brown on the issue and said students should report bullying directly to the governor's office. Both mentioned hiring more teachers and counselors and those that better reflect a diverse population.
"I would hire you," Starnes told Lawrence to audience applause.
Buehler, a prominent Republican in the Oregon Legislature, beat two main rivals in the GOP gubernatorial primary. Buehler was the most centrist of the Republican front-runners.
Brown was first appointed governor in February 2015 after John Kitzhaber resigned. She easily was elected in her own right in 2016 to finish out the term of Kitzhaber, who resigned amid accusations of influence peddling involving his fiancee.
The next two debates are scheduled for Oct. 4 in Medford and Oct. 9 in Portland.