Democratic rep candidates hold forum
Seven Democratic candidates for the 2nd Congressional District gathered in Madras on March 28, to answer questions about their views on a variety of topics facing the country.
The candidates (in alphabetical order) — Eric Burnette of Hood River, Michael Byrne of Parkdale, Jim Crary of Ashland, Raz Mason of The Dalles, Jamie McLeod-Skinner of Crooked River Ranch, and Jennifer "Jenni" Neahring and Tim White, both of Bend — will be on the May 15 primary ballot on the Democratic ticket. The top vote-getter will face incumbent U.S. Rep. Greg Walden in November.
Before answering questions, each had a brief opportunity to talk about him or herself.
Byrne, 66, a union stone mason, described himself as the candidate for "all the people who aren't in this room," including "kids living on the streets," and minorities.
"Our system is broke; we have a millionaire's club in Washington, D.C.," said Byrne, who lives in the unincorporated community of Parkdale.
Eric Burnette, 63, who has lived "a couple blocks from Mr. Walden since 1991," retired from his role as executive director of the Oregon Board of Maritime Pilots last year.
A graduate of the California Maritime Academy, with a Bachelor of Science in Marine Transportation, he has worked in the "infrastructure and agriculture trade my whole adult life."
A frequent visitor to Jefferson County, Jim Crary, 65, who lives east of Ashland, ran against Walden in 2016. "I'm running to give a voice to the people; right now, the voice belongs to corporations and the ultra-rich," he said.
A retired attorney, and U.S. Army veteran, Crary's number one issue is campaign finance reform. "Walden gets all his money from corporations," he said. "I am taking no money from PACs (political action committees)."
A hospital chaplain, commissioned naval officer and secondary teacher, Raz Mason is concerned about the wealthiest 1 percent of the country owning as much as the bottom 90 percent, climate change and "saber rattling."
In the midst of turmoil, "As a chaplain, I'm trying to stay calm," said Mason, who has a Master of Divinity from Harvard, and was on spring break from teaching.
Jamie McLeod-Skinner, 50, who holds degrees in civil engineering and planning, has worked in public service designing and repairing sanitation systems in Bosnia and Kosovo for the International Rescue Committee, and also as a city planner, regional planner and city manager.
In Santa Clara, California, a city of about 120,000, she was elected to the city council and served for eight years, and in Phoenix, Oregon, she served as the city manager.
She is particularly interested in physical and social infrastructure and education.
Neahring, 51, who has spent the past 30 years as a medical doctor, said that she has "had the honor of taking care of people when they're at their most vulnerable."
"When I saw that the Affordable Care Act was about to be repealed, I quit my job," said Neahring, who felt that it was time to "step up and help."
After a 30-year career with the Chrysler Corp., in Detroit, Michigan, and other locations around the world, Tim White, 62, is retired from his position as chief financial officer for a division of Chrysler.
In 1996, he wrote a book, "The 60 Minute ABC Book, Activity Based Costing for Operations Management," which he said is about "how to fix waste."
White said that he plans to go after Walden based on the bills that Walden has supported. "I'll show exactly what he says, and what he does," said White.
Asked about how they will reach out to young people, minorities and rural communities, all had set up Facebook pages and websites to reach out to people, and most mentioned a great deal of traveling to the 2nd District's many communities.
"I started running in January 2016," said Crary. "That's a lot of windshield time ... a lot of driving."
Responding to a question about what the candidates believe they can do better than Walden, Byrne commented, "I'm going to hold town hall meetings."
Burnette said he would bring real investment to local communities. "He won't show up; I'll show up," he said.
Crary would work toward campaign finance reform. "He takes money from any corporation that gives it to him," he said. "I'm only taking money from individuals. And, I'm going to answer my own phone."
Mason would focus on building bridges. "Greg Walden doesn't see connections, or if he does, he doesn't have the courage to follow through," she said. "I like to sit down and have a conversation."
Pointing out that she has eight years' experience working across the aisle, McLeod-Skinner said that when you represent people, "you need to show up and represent them. It's about being accessible ... representing the people you serve, not the big corporations."
Neahring intends to represent everyone in the district, "as opposed to just the people who vote for me. I would make sure our representative represents the district and not just the people who put him in power."
Over the past 10 years, White said that 14 of the 20 counties in the district have lost jobs. "He has no integrity," he commented. "It's time for (Walden) to go get a job in the lobbying industry."
Former County Commissioner Walt Ponsford asked the candidates if they would vow to help the winning Democrat in a positive campaign, and all responded favorably.
"I would absolutely support whoever gets through the primary," said Crary, adding that his integrity will be intact after the May 15 primary, and others responded in a similar vein.
On net neutrality, the candidates were opposed to its repeal.
"I absolutely support net neutrality," said McLeod-Skinner. "It's critically important for establishing a level playing field."
Stressing the benefit of net neutrality to rural populations, Mason said, "This is control of the free press. This threatens our democracy."
Although some of the candidates are gun owners and hunters, all seemed to support regulation of assault rifles.
Burnette said that there is a gun shop two doors down from his home in Hood River, and he was alarmed to see someone walking out of the driveway with an assault rifle. "They're killing machines," he said, remarking that most other weapons don't cause the same type of problems.
Finally, every candidate wanted to see the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision, which struck down a federal law that prevented unions and corporations from making political contributions changed.
"Corporations are people like us," said Byrne, ironically, suggesting that they could have equal protection under the law and be arrested for trespass, assault or murder.
White, who is currently only taking money from individuals, said that he would like to introduce legislation to end Citizens United.