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A forum at Centro Cultural featured House, Senate, city and county candidates.

STAFF PHOTO: MARK MILLER - Washington County Commissioner Bob Terry, center, and Metro Councilor Kathryn Harrington, right, take a question from former Cornelius Mayor Ralph Brown, left, at Tuesday's forum.Centro Cultural de Washington County was very nearly a one-stop shop for any registered voter looking to better know this fall's candidates for office Tuesday evening, Oct. 16.

The community center in Cornelius welcomed Oregon State Senate candidates Alexander Flores and incumbent Chuck Riley, running in Senate District 15; House candidates David Molina and incumbent Susan McLain, running in House District 29; Cornelius City Council hopefuls John Colgan, Andrew Dudley and Luis Hernandez; and the two people seeking to chair the Washington County Board of Commissioners for the next four years, Metro Councilor Kathryn Harrington and County Commissioner Bob Terry.

The forum was jointly organized by the City of Cornelius and the Cornelius Booster Club, with the support of Centro Cultural. The club's president, Ralph Brown, a former Cornelius mayor, served as the moderator for the evening.

Each candidate had an opportunity to speak for about five minutes, introducing him or herself to the audience of about three dozen, before giving two-minute answers to a pair of questions from Brown tailored to each race.

Bob Terry

Washington County chair

The race for county chairman is one of the most watched in recent Oregon political history, as Andy Duyck is stepping down after two terms and the general election features two candidates who differ on a wide range of issues. Washington County is second only to neighboring Multnomah County among Oregon's most populous counties, and it is one of the state's fastest-growing counties as well.

Terry, who is endorsed by the outgoing Duyck, spoke first at Tuesday's forum. He boasted of Washington County's accomplishments under the conservative majority of commissioners that has controlled the county government for years, stating that "we run the county like a business" and noting the county's economic importance.

"This county and this community is me, and I want to continue to support you, represent you and do the best thing for you," Terry said. "So remember Bob Terry. Tell everybody (to) get out and vote for Bob Terry. He is Washington County. He wants to see Washington County grow and be the number-one county in the state, as it is today."

The politically conservative Terry represents District 4 on the Washington County Board of Commissioners. It is by far the largest district by geography, encompassing nearly all of western Washington County, but it contains only about one-quarter of the county's population, as most of its area is rural.

Kathryn HarringtonHarrington touted Metro's accomplishments in the 12 years she has served on the council for the regional government. She is term-limited and unable to run for re-election this year; her elected successor, Centro Cultural spokesman Juan Carlos Gonzalez, was in a front-row seat for Tuesday's forum.

"I know that the next chair of the Washington County board will need to navigate our opportunities for the benefit of all of us, but also to ensure that, as we deal with challenges, that no one is left behind," Harrington said. "I'm ready to guide Washington County forward, and I'm really honored to have the endorsement of so many elected officials throughout Washington County."

Many of Harrington and Terry's political differences can be summed up in terms of revenue and spending.

Terry noted that Washington County has not raised taxes in 20 years and seemed to suggest it could be forced to do so if voters approve Ballot Measure 26-199, an affordable housing bond referred to the ballot by Metro, of which Terry is a vociferous critic. The county is already building "a lot" of affordable housing as it is, Terry argued.

"If you do it the way Metro wants to do it, it's going to cost you a lot more, and it's going to cost your county and forces your county taxes up, because who's going to administer those buildings?" Terry asked, referring to the low-income housing developments that would be constructed with bond dollars.

Harrington argued that current efforts are not producing enough housing for low-income residents to meet the county and region's needs. She said she hopes voters will pass the bond measure, suggesting it could have a "multiplier effect" that will benefit not just families in need of affordable housing, but also the local economy.

"The average stay for a person in affordable housing is only four years," Harrington said. "Generally, what happens is folks get stable housing; they're able to then work on getting better jobs, work on their education, better their lives, and then they're able to move on. So by your supporting this very modest package of funding, you'll be able to ensure that more people have access to homes."

Cornelius City Council

Tuesday's forum was one in a series of meetings for Harrington and Terry, but it was the first public event with all three candidates for Cornelius City Council. None among the trio has run for elected office before, although Colgan and Hernandez are active city volunteers who serve on the Cornelius budget committee and planning commission, respectively.

"I really want to say, I'd much rather be out camping right now, or fishing, or working in my garage," said Colgan, a math teacher at Neil Armstrong Middle School, to some chuckles from the audience. "But I feel like I need to do something for my community and give some of that back, because I love it here."

Both Colgan and Hernandez are originally from Arizona. Hernandez said Cornelius reminds him of the city where he grew up. An emergency management official with Portland General Electric, he is running to address the city's "distressed economy" and divisions between the narrow Latino majority and the rest of the population, he said.

Cornelius has long struggled to get Spanish-speaking residents to engage with the civic process at the same rate as white residents, and as Colgan noted, most of the forum's attendees on Tuesday were white. Hernandez is the only person of color seeking a seat on the council this year, and the council's only Latino member is not running for re-election.

"I really look forward to getting your vote this November, and with your help, we can really make Cornelius a community that embraces its multicultural identity and is a community that thrives," Hernandez said.

Dudley spoke for less time than the other two candidates, remarking toward the end of his opening statement, "I had more in my head before I came here." He's lived in Cornelius for 12 years, he said, longer than either Colgan or Hernandez, and he said he has seen significant changes in the community.

"I enjoy this city and watching it develop, have many more homes, which it really needs," said Dudley, who works as a security guard and also said he sees Cornelius' diversity as a strength. "I have seen it come quite a long way."

Colgan, Dudley and Hernandez all agreed that while they "love" living in Cornelius, the city lacks for things to do, and they would like to see more dining options, services and other attractive businesses in the downtown area.

"There's walkability that we can introduce into the community," added Hernandez, who is already involved with community development efforts in his capacity as a planning commissioner.

State Legislature

The House and Senate portions of the forum was almost wholly devoid of references to the candidates' political parties (McLain and Riley are Democrats, and Molina and Flores are Republicans cross-nominated by the Independent Party of Oregon), or the platforms of those parties. Both the statements and answers from candidates focused mostly on their biography and relatively nonpartisan issues, like improving Oregon's public education system and being accessible to constituents.

Flores resigned as chairman of Centro Cultural's board of directors earlier this year in order to focus on his Senate campaign.

"This is a great place," Flores said. "I miss it here. It's only been a couple months, but I miss it."

Flores, McLain and Molina all shared personal stories with the audience to explain what motivated them to run for office.

Flores grew up poor, dropped out of high school and ended up as a teenage father, but he got his life back on track by working hard to get his GED, go to college, and get involved with local business and nonprofits in the Portland area, he said.

"What else can we do aside from give each other a chance (and) work together?" Flores asked rhetorically. "I'm tired of the rhetoric in D.C. We here in Washington County need to be trend-setters, not trend-followers, and I will lead our county into a better county, a brighter future — not just for my kids, but for your kids and for your grandkids."

McLain has been in the Legislature since 2015. She served on the Metro Council prior to that, but she considers her profession to have been education, as she taught at Glencoe High School for many years before retiring in 2014 when she was running for state office. She recalled some of the events that shaped her decision to run, including the death of her husband, Cliff, a small business-owner who ran a machine shop in Cornelius, in 2009, and the needs she saw as an educator in Hillsboro public schools.

"The best part of the job is actually getting to work on issues that have to do with essential services in our state," McLain said. "And one of the main reasons that I went down there was because we had a lot of young teachers that had taught five to nine years that weren't going to stay in teaching. And I told them they needed to stay — I'd been there 42 years, and they hadn't — and that I would like to go down and really figure out what it was that we could get in the way of support from our state."

Responding to a question about homelessness, Molina shared publicly — something he said he hasn't done much before — that he was briefly homeless after losing his house in Portland to a foreclosure.

"Before we even talk about — you know, Dave, how did he lose his home? We got to talk about what made it so unaffordable for someone, as a former Army captain, both professionals, working — how did we actually come to this?" Molina remarked. "And, you know, a lot of it is rising costs. Property taxes continue to go up like no one's business, like there is no tomorrow. And so we have to consider all those pieces."

Riley is the most experienced state legislator in western Washington County — he served in the House from 2005 to 2011, then was elected to the Senate four years ago — and he talked about his work in Salem on areas like improving Oregon's IT systems and encouraging Intel to continue investing in Oregon. He also said he is committed to being available to constituents, describing himself as "one of the most accessible legislators in the Legislature."

"I give people my cellphone number," Riley said. "I don't want to hide. I want to make sure that anybody can talk to me about anything they want to talk about."

Ballots hit the mail the day after the forum, on Wednesday, Oct. 17. Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 6. Ballots are due then by 8 p.m.

By Mark Miller
Editor, Forest Grove News-Times
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