BEND, Ore. - If Tuesday night's debate at the Volcanic Theatre Pub in Bend is any indication, the race for Deschutes County district attorney on the upcoming May 20th ballot could be as heated as one four years ago, when Flaherty knocked off incumbent Mike Dugan.
Flaherty and his challenger, former Bend city councilor John Hummel, met on Bend's Westside for their first public debate, hosted by the Bend Chamber of Commerce.
It didn't take too long for the first jabs to be thrown in the modified presidential-style face-off.
"He's never been a prosecutor, he's never tried a Measure 11 case," Flaherty said of his foe, "I'm sure he'll tell us about his trial experience as we go on this evening, but frankly, when I was in the DA's office back in the 1990s, I don't remember seeing him in court for any trials."
Hummel fired back, saying he had joined a non-exclusive group of Flaherty targets.
"I've joined the club of people who have been bullied by Patrick Flaherty," Hummel said. "I'm disappointed by the attack levied on me -- the scurrilous attack that I haven't tried a Measure 11 case -- No. 1, he gets his facts wrong."
Throughout the debate, Hummel pushed the point the employees at the district attorney's office are excellent, but the person leading them needs to change.
"I feel for the people in his office," Hummel said. "I feel for the people in this community who have been dealing with this for years. They can't stand up, because they are afraid they will lose their job if they do. Some of them have stood up and have lost their job as a result."
The moderators of the debate posed the question of how the district attorney should handle relations with the media.
Flaherty jokingly told the crowd, "Y'all know I'm a media expert ,right?"
He went on to say he believes it's important for the district attorney to be communicating with the news media.
"I have had a rocky road there," Flaherty admitted. "It's a road I am hoping to smooth out. But it's not the function of the district attorney's office to be working with the media all the time."
Flaherty added that there are many cases where the media wants to know information, but the law prohibits them from disclosing some of it.
Hummel responded to the question by saying the media is primarily how the public knows what elected officials are up to.
"An elected official needs to talk to the media," Hummel said, "so the public can hear through the media what's happening in their office. So it's absolutely a critical part of the job."
As the debate continued, both men continued to push the same point of the importance of working with the sheriff's office, city police and other agencies within the county.
The moderators then brought up the legalization of marijuana, and asked both men where they stood on the issue. Both Flaherty and Hummel said they would enforce whatever law was passed by Oregonians. But it got more interesting when they shared some of their personal views.
Hummel said he was "concerned" and interested to see what happens in Colorado, where pot has been legalized, now that the "rubber is meeting the road."
"I think there is a place for legalization," Hummel said. "If we legalize, I don't want to see that cash stream used by legislatures as a little piggy bank for parks or roads. Those are all important, but if we are going to legalize marijuana, that money better go to marijuana treatment, so people can get treatment on demand."
Flaherty answered, "I believe as your DA, and it's also my personal belief, that it would be ... not healthy for our community to legalize marijuana. That's because I see all the driving under the influence cases. We can already predict the more DUII cases we will see, the more vehicular assaults, the more times police officers and prosecutors have to look at mangled bodies in cars."
In the second stage of the debate, each candidate was asked a specific question. Flaherty was asked about criticism surrounding legal fees spent resulting from the January 2011 termination of three former deputy district attorneys.
Flaherty answered by saying he was elected to bring reform to the DA's office.
"The decisions I made, to not to appoint the three deputy DA's, who believed that they were entitled to their government jobs -- those decisions I would make all over again in a heartbeat," Flaherty said.
He went on to claim that one of them lied to an elected district attorney during an investigation, another lied to him, and the third created a hostile work environment under the the previous DA.
"It was the deputy DA's that filed the lawsuit that's responsible for the tax dollars (that were spent)." Flaherty said. "The (Oregon) Department of Administrative Services, that state insurance company, deals with litigation. I had no control, and no one in my office had any control over the course of that litigation."
Hummel was asked about his time as a Bend city councilor. and specifically one of the low points of his time there: the purchase of used buses which came with problems and cost the city a significant amount of money, including subsequent litigation.
He said it happened during a time when the city was growing rapidly and people and employers were coming to the city asking for a bus system and to raise taxes to do so. Hummel said he and the mayor at the time said yes to the buses and no to new taxes (voters rejected transit funding).
He told the audience he and the mayor spent weeks, possibly months going through the city budget, looking for ways to pay for the bus system that community surveys showed many wanted.
"Part of the way you could do it was to buy used buses," Hummel said. "You know what happened -- you all know what happened. We bought some lemon buses."
Hummel said he takes full responsibility for what happened, and added they "pulled themselves up by the boot straps" and bought new buses as a result.
"To this day, we have a functioning transportation system, for no additional tax revenue," Hummel said.
In closing statements, Hummel took one last jab, regarding a particular case: Bret Biedscheid, the former Les Schwab executive who served three months for fleeing the scene of a 2011 fatal hit-and-run crash that killed pedestrian Anthony "Tony" Martin. Hummel said he believes Biedscheid got off "too easy."
"Tony Martin's family will live with his death the rest of their life. They'll also live with knowing their elected official abandoned them," Hummel said.
Flaherty responded saying the final outcome of the plea deal was not in his hands.
"The judge made a decision, as the judge is entitled to do -- though we strongly disagreed -- to impose less than the presumptive sentence," Flaherty said.
The two candidates for Deschutes County district attorney will meet at least two more times before the May election -- a March 24th appearance before the Redmond Patriots and an April 15th forum with the Deschutes County League of Women Voters.