Democratic incumbent Suzanne Bonamici faces her two challengers at Washington County Public Affairs Forum

TIMES PHOTO: PETER WONG - Democratic U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici speaks Monday, Sept. 17, at a Washington County Public Affairs Forum as her rivals for the 1st District congressional seat await their turn. Drew Layda, right, is the nominee of the Libertarian and Pacific Green parties; John Verbeek is the Republican nominee.The three candidates for the 1st District congressional seat, in what may be their only joint appearance before the Nov. 6 election, showed wide differences on issues such as health care, immigration and taxes.

Democratic Rep. Suzanne Bonamici faced Republican John Verbeek and Drew Layda, the nominee of the Libertarian and Pacific Green parties, at a Washington County Public Affairs Forum on Monday in Hillsboro.

Neither Verbeek, who has decades of experience in financial services, nor Layda, a consultant who has been a saturation diver and has been in the Navy, has held public office before. According to the Federal Election Commission, neither has raised any money, although the next reports will cover the quarter ending Sept. 30.

Bonamici, a former state legislator from Beaverton, is seeking a fourth full term from the northwest Oregon district that covers Washington County and Portland west of the Willamette River. She won a special election in 2012 for a vacancy created by the resignation under pressure of Democrat David Wu.

She has called for comprehensive legislation to resolve immigration issues, including the fate of young immigrants known as "dreamers" who were brought to the United States illegally as children.

She has been outspoken against a policy — since rescinded by President Donald Trump, who began it — of separating undocumented children from their parents. (The administration has asked federal courts to allow indefinite detention of children with their families until their cases are heard. The current detention limit for children is 20 days.)

"What this administration is doing — ripping children away from their families — is completely unacceptable, inhumane and must be called out for what it is," she said. "It is not what America stands for.

But Verbeek, himself an immigrant from the Netherlands who has lived in Portland two decades, defended the former policy of separation.

"The rule of law is important," he said. "I find it hypocritical to accuse the executive branch of ripping families apart, when they are applying the laws we have on the books."

Verbeek has blamed Congress for inaction. The Senate took four votes, and the House two votes, on immigration bills this year — but all failed to advance.

Layda said he has met previously with asylum seekers. "What is going on right now in certain regards is cruel and unusual punishment," he said.

Health care and taxes

Bonamici also has been an outspoken critic of Republican attempts to repeal the 2010 health-care overhaul known as the Affordable Care Act, which guarantees coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions without charging them higher premiums.

"We must protect people with pre-existing conditions, drive down the cost of prescription drugs, and make sure we are protecting the right of women to make their own health care decisions," she said.

"We can do better in this country. We spend a lot and what we are spending is not commensurate with what people are getting… But we do not want to go back to the days when people were uninsured."

She said she opposes Republican attempts to scale back Medicare and Medicaid, the federal programs that provide coverage for people 65 and older and for low-income people.

"Congress can do more, but somebody has to pay for it," Verbeek said. "Entitlement programs are the elephant in the room and are the biggest driver of our budget deficit. We need a bipartisan effort to get better solutions."

Layda said that until the major parties start talking to each other civilly, nothing is going to happen in Congress.

"I think it is a little premature to figure out how we make everybody pay for a corrupt health care mess," he said.

Verbeek criticized Bonamici for being unwilling to support tax cuts.

"She's a very expensive woman and we cannot afford her," he said. "She has not met a tax she did not like."

But Bonamici said she voted against the tax cuts that Republican majorities passed through Congress in late 2017 — no Democrat voted for them — because the cuts are projected to add $1.5 trillion to the national debt over the next decade.

Bonamici pledged to continue work on a range of issues if she is re-elected, including climate change, education, health care, immigration and workplace matters.

If Democrats win their first majority in the House in eight years, she added, more vigorous oversight of what federal agencies are doing under Trump will be part of that list.

"A lot of oversight needs to happen about this administration and how the agencies are operating and what they are and are not doing," she said.

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To view the Sept. 17 Washington County Public Affairs Forum:

Part 1 -

Part 2 -

NOTE: Fixes error in Verbeek description. He has not held public office, but he has sought public office every two years since 2010. This is his first bid for Congress.

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