10-23-2016  2:34 am      •     
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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- Oregon Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Dudley will not participate in a debate with his Democratic opponent this week, saying it interferes with his vacation plans.
Dudley was asked to take questions from a panel alongside former Gov. John Kitzhaber on Friday at the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association's summer convention in Salem. The ONPA debate is a tradition in Oregon politics that stretches back decades, signaling the start of the general election campaign.
Democrats on Tuesday criticized Dudley's decision not to attend, arguing it's part of a pattern of avoiding issues.
``It's interesting, especially that he has not, since the primary, spoken out on anything,'' said Democratic Party of Oregon spokeswoman Amy Wojcicki. ``He's had an opportunity to talk about various issues out there. Here's an opportunity, and they've decided that they're going on vacation.''
Dudley's spokesman, LeRoy Coleman, said Dudley planned the vacation before the debate was scheduled.
Coleman said Dudley's campaign sent a letter to Kitzhaber's campaign on June 15, proposing two October debates, and the Dudley camp didn't hear back for more than three weeks.
``Chris looks forward to the opportunity to stand next to Kitzhaber to discuss his failed record as governor,'' Coleman said in a statement issued on Tuesday. ``This debate over debates is time honored in politics. It's the side that starts that would rather engage in political nonsense than the issues that affect Oregon.''
Laurie Hieb, executive director of the Oregon Newspaper Publishers' Association, said invitations had been extended to Dudley and Kitzhaber soon after they won their primary races on May 18. Kitzhaber said yes.
Hieb said she didn't hear from Dudley for some time, and when she did, his campaign said he had to decline. ONPA had been hoping Dudley would change his mind but his campaign reiterated toward the end of June he wouldn't be able to make it because he was going to be on vacation.
``I was disappointed to hear he wasn't going to participate in this debate,'' she said. ``It is important for voters to know where these candidates stand on the issues we are all facing now. Our members do a great job of asking the tough questions to the candidates and reporting the answers to voters in their newspapers.''
Kitzhaber spokesman Derek Humphrey said his candidate will attend the ONPA event.

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