Democrat challenges Bentz for seat in Congress
Joe Yetter does not consider himself a career politician and he likely wouldn't have pursued a seat in Congress if not for a change in district boundaries.
A retired U.S. Army colonel, physician and teacher, Yetter was content to spend his retirement as a farmer in Azalea, a small community between Grants Pass and Roseburg. But when Oregon's congressional district boundaries were redrawn after the 2020 Census, and his community transitioned from the state's fourth district to its second, he took an interest in running for office.
"I really felt like the people in the second congressional district were not being well represented in terms of their values and interests by Cliff Bentz," he explained.
Yetter will face Bentz, the Republican incumbent, in the 2022 general election this November, having handily won the Democratic Party nomination in a two-candidate race over Adam Prine. He is critical of Bentz's voting record, highlighting several examples.
"On Jan. 6, three days after he put up his right hand and swore to protect and defend the Constitution of the U.S., he violated that, in my opinion, by voting not to seat the Pennsylvania electors," he said. "The people of Pennsylvania had spoken â€“ they had spoken in greater numbers than the same numbers that elected him to office. The courts had held that it was valid and so on. He wished to substitute his judgment and the judgment of the fake electors for the real electors and for the real voters of Pennsylvania."
Yetter added that he takes exception with Bentz voting against "providing funding for the VA (U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs) to cover veterans who had been harmed by inhaling fumes from toxic burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan."
"That was deeply offensive to me," he said.
He went on to note Bentz's votes against the Violence Against Women Act, against limiting insulin prices for diabetics and against funding for infant formula. He called his opponent a "radical conception right to lifer," who would be against invitro fertilization, many forms of birth control and abortion.
"I am pro-choice, pro-birth control and pro-women's rights," he said.
Lastly, Yetter criticized Bentz's votes against the American Rescue Plan and the bipartisan infrastructure bill.
"Some Republicans voted for that, he voted against it."
If elected, Yetter identified three broad issues or projects he hopes to address. The first is preservation of democracy. He stressed that he would support again passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, would vote to restore the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and revisit the Electoral Count Act, "so that it's clear about how the electors are selected."
Preserving individual liberty is another goal Yetter highlighted.
"With the overturning of Roe v. Wade and getting rid of choice, that's a huge infringement on a woman's right to choose," he said. "It is going to raise the maternal mortality rate in the U.S. by maybe 21%, and we already have the worst maternity mortality rate in the industrialized world."
He went on to add that the opinion of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas "makes it clear that other individual right are on the line," including the right to marry across gender and racial lines.
"Basically, individual autonomy is on the line," he said. "That is really important to me."
The other broad issue Yetter prioritized is prosperity. He talked about a variety of things that he believes makes individual lives better, including health care and infrastructure improvements. He pointed out that while Bentz is "opposed to all U.S. government health care," he favors single-payer universal health care.
"I am in favor of the kinds of improved infrastructure for roads, bridges, airports, schools, hospitals and any other measure that makes individual lives better in terms of housing, jobs, parental and family leave, and so on."
Facing Bentz, Yetter knows he faces an uphill battle â€“ a Democrats rarely get elected to represent Oregon's Second Congressional District. Only two Democrats have held the office in its history â€“ Walter M. Pierce from 1933 to 1943 and Al Ullman from 1957 to 1981.
"A generic Democrat and a generic Republican running, the Republican is going to win about 60/40," he said. "But we are not living in generic times. We have Supreme Court decisions, we have shootings, we have a crisis in health care, a climate crisis. And I don't think I am a generic candidate because I am a physician, a veteran, a teacher, a farmer and a gun owner."
Yetter has been touring the district, stopping in Prineville and other communities, reaching out to constituents, many of whom are conservatives.
"I have heard a lot about Second Amendment issues," he said, stressing again that he is a gun owner with a variety of firearms he has owned for years. He added that he is a supporter of the Second Amendment and has been an NRA member in the past, although he isn't anymore.
"I think the NRA used to be a wonderful gun safety, gun responsibility organization. I don't think it's that way anymore," he said.
Yetter said he favors sensible gun regulations, including universal background checks and age restrictions on automatic weapons.
"I am not in favor of registration or confiscation or anything that is often attributed to liberals," he said.
In addition to Second Amendment rights, Yetter has engaged "people who label themselves conservatives" on a variety of other topics, including public land use and forest management. He has concluded that people have the same common values and common interests that they want to see addressed.
"Everybody wants to breathe clean air, drink pure water and not burn up in a fire. And everybody has a right to those things," he said. "People have similar hopes and dreams and aspirations. If they can work together â€“ and I think I can do that â€“ then they can achieve those ends."
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