SALEM — Independent Party candidate for governor Patrick Starnes says he is not going to be ignored or cast as a spoiler in the November election.

The Brownsville cabinetmaker won the nomination of the state’s official third major party in the May 15 primary.

Incumbent Democrat Gov. Kate Brown and Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, the Republican nominee, mounted efforts to try to win a cross-nomination as the Independent Party candidate through write-in votes.

“Big money did not steal the Independent Party primary election,” Starnes said in a recent interview. “Oregon needs a clearly independent choice this November. That message prevailed in the election numbers.”

Starnes and his party are struggling to be seen and heard in a race that is often cast as a Brown vs. Buehler battle.

The immediate controversy is over debates. Brown and Buehler have agreed to three debates — and Starnes has not been invited.

Under state law, any debate that is within 60 days of the election must include all major party candidates or the organizers of the debate have to declare the cost of the event as an in-kind donation to the candidates who take part.

“Our party intends to pursue all state and federal remedies available to us to ensure our candidate’s participation in these debates,” Independent Party Secretary Sal Peralta said in a statement.

Brown spokesman Christian Gaston said the governor had not discussed the “hypothetical” inclusion of Starnes in the debates.

“None of the debate hosts have proposed a three-way debate,” Gaston said.

Buehler spokeswoman Monica Wroblewski said Buehler was supportive of Starnes taking part in “some” of the debates and joint appearances. In addition to the three agreed-upon debates, Buehler wants up to 10 total debates and joint appearances with Brown.

Starnes said that Brown and Buehler should be vocal in calling for his inclusion in all the debates. Otherwise, they are part of the problem, he said.

“The terribly low voter turnout shows how disgusted Oregonians are with politics,” Starnes said. “My message on getting big money out of politics is understood across the political spectrum from conservative to progressive and all the nonaffiliated voters in the middle.”

With Buehler spending more than $3 million to win the GOP primary and Brown and Buehler on pace to eclipse the $17.7 million record for spending in a governor’s election, Starnes says neither wants to talk about where the money comes from and how it is spent.

“Everyone recognizes the elephant in the room,” Starnes said. “I am the only one willing to talk about it.”

Starnes said he planned to compete by spending his time between now and November on the campaign trail.

“Since I am fortunate enough to be self-employed, I can campaign full time and am free to travel all over the state,” he said. “We have been up the Columbia Gorge and as far as Wallowa County and Ontario on the Snake River along with Central Oregon. I just finished my second tour of Medford, Grants Pass and Southern Oregon.

Starnes said that big money in campaigns — from business, labor or individuals — makes for gridlock in Salem.

“We will not see other reforms, like PERS and health care costs, until big money is out of politics,” he said.

Starnes would like to see open primaries in which all voters could take part, instead of the closed Democratic and Republican party primaries that only allow party members to cast ballots.

“There were 830,000 Oregon voters — 30 percent of the total — who did not get to vote for a governor candidate in the recent May primary,” Starnes said. “Nonaffiliated voters are expected to pay for the primary for the major parties, but they do not get to vote in those primaries? Seems like taxation without representation.”

Starnes said in the debates, he wants to talk about gerrymandering.

Legislative districts will be redrawn after the 2020 census, including the possibility of a new congressional district if Oregon shows as much growth in the past decade as expected.

“The next Oregon governor will have to deal with creating a sixth congressional district,” Starnes said. “Many states have an independent, nonpartisan commission to do the redistricting after the 2020 census using modern computer technology to come up with rational and objective districts. I’d rather have that than the partisan system that we have now, which favors who is in the majority at the moment.”

— Reporter: 541-640-2750, gwarner@bendbulletin.com

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