Endorsement: Hardworking McLain best choice in HD 29
Editor's note: This endorsement is part of a series of editorials in advance of the Nov. 6, 2018, general election. Also in this Oct. 17, 2018, issue, our editorial board endorses Ron Noble for House District 24, Rich Vial for House District 26, Janeen Sollman for House District 30, Brad Witt for House District 31, Tiffiny Mitchell for House District 32, Alexander Flores for Senate District 15, Betsy Johnson for Senate District 16 and Knute Buehler for governor.
Our endorsement editorials in the previous issue on Oct. 10, 2018, recommended voters elect Tom Johnston, Malynda Wenzl and Devon Downeysmith for Forest Grove City Council; Luis Hernandez and John Colgan for Cornelius City Council; and Beach Pace, Kyle Allen and Olivia Alcaire for Hillsboro City Council.
Our Oct. 3, 2018, endorsement editorials recommended voters elect elect Kathryn Harrington as Washington County Board of Commissioners chairwoman and approve Ballot Measure 26-199.
Our Sept. 26, 2018, endorsement editorial recommended voters reject Ballot Measures 103 and 104. Our Sept. 19, 2018, endorsement editorial recommended voters reject Ballot Measure 105. Our Sept. 12, 2018, endorsement editorial recommended voters approve Ballot Measure 102.
Two candidates are running to represent Forest Grove, Cornelius and west Hillsboro in the Oregon House of Representatives — but only one of them demonstrates the know-how and temperament to serve in 2019 and 2020.
Democratic Rep. Susan McLain drew a challenge this year in the form of political newcomer David Molina, a Forest Grove Republican who previously identified as an Independent. A retired U.S. Army captain, Molina accuses McLain of being a "soldier" for House Speaker Tina Kotek and says she does little for her constituents in House District 29.
We disagree. With her voting record, McLain lines up as a reliable vote for Kotek's Democratic majority caucus, but when she talks about her "buddies" in the Legislature, the legislators she has worked with on committees and bills, she mentions nearly as many Republicans as Democrats, including freshman Rep. Rich Vial of Scholls. She stresses the importance of keeping an open mind and finding out the facts before making decisions. While she's no fan of the Trump administration, she talks about the importance of Oregon maintaining a positive relationship with the federal government even when there are areas of disagreement.
"We have to look for where we can work on things together," McLain told our editorial board.
That quote neatly sums up McLain's approach in the Legislature. She was elected in 2014, months after retiring from decades of work as a public schoolteacher, many of those years at Glencoe High School as a speech and debate teacher — a skill set that shows in her mannered approach to public speaking engagements and one-on-one conversations alike. She said she felt the Legislature "needed a teacher's voice," but she wanted to wait until she retired so that she could commit as much time as possible to serving as a state representative. Today, she serves on a whopping six committees, devoting much of her time to the causes of education, transportation and agriculture.
Because of her time spent in public education, McLain takes a monthly pension of $2,231 from the Oregon Public Employees Retirement System, which she paid into throughout her career. That's provided fodder for Molina, a self-taught coder and businessman who argues that she is compromised in her ability to legislate on PERS issues and has suggested that the state adopt legislation to prevent members of the Legislature, Supreme Court and governor's office from receiving PERS benefits. McLain argues that would cause a chilling effect on teachers and other public servants from running for office.
"We need a wide variety of folks in the Legislature ... to make it work and function," she said.
Beyond his PERS proposal, Molina has some other ideas for changing up the way the state government works. He wants to improve the quality of the food served in public school cafeterias by hiring elite chefs for school districts, institute a flat personal income tax rate of 4.5 percent statewide, slash taxes on small businesses, and drastically boost funding for both K-12 education and veterans' services. Asked by our editorial board how he plans to pay for all those items, he casually suggested that one-half of the state government can be eliminated through spending cuts; among other reductions, he'd like to privatize the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles. We do not think that is a good idea.
Molina has a compelling backstory, which he spent about two-thirds of his interview with our editorial board sharing in detail. Born and raised in farmworker communities in the Hood River and Skagit valleys, he started working at an early age, joined the Army, was commissioned as an officer, started small businesses and later a nonprofit to support veterans who want to learn how to code, and now owns a construction company he first started out of his garage.
Regardless of how effective a legislator we believe McLain has been in her four years in Salem, it's healthy for democracy when people have more than one viable choice in an election, so it is a shame that Molina does not come off as a serious candidate. We find his legislative priorities to be, by and large, an unworkable muddle. We were turned off by his harsh but ill-informed criticisms of McLain. We do not feel he has put in the necessary legwork to learn about how the state government works, or about his opponent's record.
The votes that McLain has taken in the House likely will not satisfy her more conservative constituents. But she puts in a great deal of work as a state representative, and she speaks thoughtfully and knowledgeably about the issues facing western Washington County and the state as a whole. In just two terms, she has become one of Salem's most indispensable legislators, pushing for an inclusive approach to tax reform in order to improve Oregon's troubled public education system, sensible regulations on e-cigarettes and vaping products, greater oversight of online charter schools, and a legal framework for self-driving vehicles on Oregon's roads.
Voters in House District 29 should keep McLain in office for another two years.
Quality local journalism takes time and money, which comes, in part, from paying readers. If you enjoy articles like this one, please consider supporting us.
(It can cost as little as 3 cents a day.)