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Oregon GOP Candidate Doesn't Want Gun Bills At February Session

<p>In this Sept. 19, 2012, file photo, Knute Buehler, Republican candidate for Oregon secretary of state, speaks during a news conference in Portland.</p>

Don Ryan

In this Sept. 19, 2012, file photo, Knute Buehler, Republican candidate for Oregon secretary of state, speaks during a news conference in Portland.

State Rep. Knute Buehler, the Bend Republican running for Oregon governor, disagrees with Democratic Gov. Kate Brown over two issues expected to get a lot of attention in the next several months: guns and health care taxes.

In the wake of the Las Vegas shootings, Brown announced she wants the Legislature to act on two gun-control measures in the February session. And just the day before the announcement, opponents of health-provider taxes appeared successful in their effort to force a Jan. 23 referendum on the issue.

Rebecca Tweed, Buehler's campaign manager, said in an email Tuesday that Buehler will oppose taking up the gun measures.

One of the measures would prohibit gun sales until background checks are completed; currently, sales can proceed after three days if the checks are not done by then. The other would expand the number of people convicted of domestic abuse and stalking who could lose their rights to buy and possess firearms.

Tweed said the gun measures fall into that category of bills that should be held for discussion during the longer, six-month legislative sessions that are held in non-election years. 

"t is irresponsible for Governor Brown to suggest such important issues can be handled in 35 days," she said.

Sponsors of the health care referendum filed more than 84,000 signatures to qualify it for the ballot, well over the 59,000 required. Unless a surprisingly high number of their signatures are invalid, an election will be held shortly before the February session.

At stake is between $210 million and $320 million in assessments levied on hospitals, insurers and coordinated care organizations. Supporters say those taxes would generate far more than that in federal Medicaid payments and also help reduce rates for people buying coverage on the individual market.

Buehler opposed the bill in the Legislature that created the taxes, saying that they could have been more narrowly crafted. In August, he urged the governor to call a special session to head off a referendum and said the issue is “better addressed in the legislative committee room than on a 30-second ad.”

Brown rejected that call. She supports the current program, which she said is necessary to ensure funding for Medicaid — a program that now covers about 1.1 million people in Oregon.

Tweed said Buehler will urge a "no" vote on the health care taxes if the referendum is held. She added that "regardless of the outcome of the election, the February session should be dedicated exclusively to bipartisan reforms and fixes with Medicaid management, eligibility and funding."

Tweed also charged that Brown's desire to bring up the gun bills is "merely cynical political theater on the governor’s part to appeal to her partisan base and distract from her failure to lead on Medicaid."

Brown said she was reaffirming her support for the gun measures following the Vegas shooting and the two-year anniversary of the mass shooting at Umpqua Community College.  

"I know my condolences will never be enough to keep families safe from violence,” she said. “We, as lawmakers, must put politics aside and work together to keep our communities safe."

Legislation on both of the gun issues died in the last session.

Buehler has opposed both of the major gun bills passed by the Legislature during his tenure in the House. One was a 2015 law expanding background checks to cover private gun sales. The second is a bill from the most recent session that allows family members or the police to petition a judge to temporarily take away the gun rights of someone believed to be at "extreme risk" of violence.

Thomas Wheatley, a Brown campaign advisor, noted that Buehler voted in 2016 against a bill that would have allowed more time to complete background checks.

Wheatley said the issue has been well debated and suggested that Buehler might be trying to avoid having to vote on the issue before next year's Republican primary.

Copyright 2017 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Jeff Mapes is a senior political reporter at Oregon Public Broadcasting. Previously, Jeff covered state and national politics for The Oregonian for nearly 32 years. He has covered numerous presidential, congressional, gubernatorial and ballot measure campaigns, as well as many sessions of the Legislature, stretching back to 1985. Jeff graduated from San Jose State University with a B.A. in journalism.