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Candidates for Senate District 20 each trying to paint the other as out-of-touch

Senator Alan Olsen (R-Clackamas County) is back to defend a seat he narrowly won four years ago, but Democratic challenger Jamie Damon thinks she has a strong chance of taking it away. Photo Credit: COURTESY PHOTO - State Sen. Alan Olsen (R-District 20) defends his seat against challenger Jamie Damon.

A Democratic win in the swing district could throw weight behind the current 16-14 senate majority, but some analysts say redistricting in 2012 made Senate District 20 a more Republican-leaning area.

“It’s a district that’s gone back and forth, but not by much,” says Jim Moore, director of the Tom McCall Center for Policy Innovation at Pacific University in Forest Grove.

Olsen was a first-time politician when he won the ticket to the state capitol in 2010 with just 224 votes over now-Clackamas County Commissioner Martha Schrader. Damon, too, was a County Commissioner appointed to a vacancy in 2011 but she failed to win re-election in 2013.

“She was fired,” Olsen says. The Canby resident accuses Damon of being too Portland-centric to appeal to a Clackamas County constituency. “All her endorsements benefit Multnomah County.”

Damon strongly rebuts this characterization, pointing to her 18-year residency on a rural lot in Eagle Creek, a part-time logger for a husband, and a love of fishing and hunting.

“I’ve been living a rural life for a really long time,” Damon says, adding: “It’s disappointing that as a college-educated, professional woman I would be labeled as somebody not from our community.”

In campaign ads, Friends of Jamie Damon has accused Olsen of being in the back pocket of corporations. The political action committee also criticized him for complaining about the amount of money state legislators make.

Olsen stands by his statements, noting that though working 12-hour days during the legislative session, he was making a third of his usual wages as a general contractor.

“It’s great, but it’s a financial difficulty. To me, that’s an honest answer,” Olsen says, stating that many of his fellow legislators are independently wealthy or retired. “How many people can live on $1,864 per month?”

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Oregon state legislators make $21,936 per year with a $123 per diem when the Legislature is in session. Salaries for state legislators vary widely across the country, but by comparison, Washington legislators make $42,106 per year with a $90 per diem. Idaho lawmakers are paid $16,116 per year with a conditional per diem.

'Purple' candidates

Damon says the county is neither Republican red nor Democratic blue but “purple.”

“Clackamas County is really unique in that way and I like that. I like that people have strong opinions about why they are registered (in a certain party),” Damon says.

The district’s mixed culture could be why both candidates claim the middle ground while painting their opponent as an extremist.

Olsen says he is a “Ronald Reagan Republican” who believes in social service networks for the poor and deregulation for businesses to promote job growth. Photo Credit: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Democratic challenger Jaime Damon hopes to take State Sen. Alan Olsen's seat in District 20.

“My mantra has always been: ‘If it’s good for Oregonians, I’ll support it no matter who wrote the bill,' ” Olsen says.

The U.S. Army veteran points to a bill he worked on with Senate Majority Leader Peter Courtney (D-Salem) in 2011 that gave veterans in Oregon the opportunity to take Veterans’ Day off.

“He said my amendment was ‘magic,’ ” Olsen said, because it allowed Senate Bill 2 to be passed unanimously. Olsen’s amendment gave employers discretion over whether or not to grant their veteran employees’ requests to take Nov. 11 off.

Oregon politics expert Jim Moore, a political scientist at Pacific University, says Olsen’s record is inconclusive on the question of extremism.

“Olsen wasn’t really a leader in the senate and nothing really radical came up in the Senate,” Moore says.

Jobs and education

Damon is a mediator in the governor’s office’s regional solutions for the Southern Willamette Valley sage-grouse, a bird that she is working to keep off the endangered species list because of the expected economic impacts.

She considers herself “a thoughtful moderate,” who is adept at finding common ground between a wide range of interests.

Damon says her top priority in the Legislature would be education funding, after having put two children through the Estacada School District and seeing firsthand the schools stripped of their trades programs, as well as music and physical education.

“We’ve got to get out of this hole. It has to be a priority,” she says. “I feel like we’re trying to regain ground that we used to have.”

Damon says not just K-12 but higher education and skills training would be important to her, as evidenced by her new position on the Clackamas Community College Foundation board.

Olsen says his top priority is to broaden the middle class by helping the unemployed and underemployed. He believes the best way to do this is to remove obstacles so business owners can “get their money back faster, hire more people, so the better they function and the more people they can hire.

“That’s the whole goal: keep capital in their pockets and lighten up on the regulations and the rest that they deal with.”

By Shasta Kearns Moore
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