Candidates discuss regional issues
All but one candidate running for local elected office attended the Sandy Area Chamber of Commerce Government Affairs Committee's candidates forum Monday night, April 9. From 5:30-8 p.m. would-be representatives for House District 52, Senate District 26, Clackamas County Clerk and Clackamas County Commissioners No. 2 and No. 5 fielded questions from chamber members and the community at large, introducing themselves — some for the first time — to Sandy.
With 11 candidates present, the forum had a variety of voices, though many opponents seemed to agree on fundamental needs like improved budgeting for education.
In the candidates' opening remarks, Aurora del Val (D-Cascade Locks) who was running against Rep. Jeff Helfrich (R-Hood River) and Anna Williams (D-Hood River) for the position as House District 52 representative shocked the audience by announcing she was stepping down from her campaign to support Williams. del Val said she wants to put her experience financing campaigns behind Williams' efforts.
"I have to thank Anna Williams for entering this race," del Val said. "Anna and I share so many values. It feels great. I'm actually stepping down, and I'm asking supporters of me to support Anna."
del Val said in her time campaigning she realized how much money was truly needed to run a successful campaign and began looking into campaign finance reform.
"Unless you have a circle of friends who are independently wealthy, most people in this country cannot run for office and do it well," del Val noted. "That's why I'm totally standing for Anna, and this is a radical move. I'm a collaborator and I'm going to be collaborating with Anna because I think that we're on the right side of history, and Jeff, I think you're a really nice guy, but I think you're on the wrong side of history."
Topics in the question-and-answer portion of the evening ranged from support for small businesses to education and transportation and infrastructure to the environment and elections security.
When asked what their top two priorities in office would be, most candidates included education.
"We have to fully fund education," Rep. Jeff Helfrich said. "And to do that we have to work together."
Chrissy Reitz (D-Hood River) who is opposing Sen. Chuck Thomsen (R-Hood River) said she will advocate for education that prepares students for college as well as careers in the trades through career technical education opportunities.
Anna Williams (D-Hood River) argued that "If we don't make the environment a priority, all the other work we do won't count for anything."
How would they help fund PERS without bankrupting the state?
"There's really nothing we can do to go back on those contracts ... we can only go forward," Thomsen said, and many of the other candidates agreed. The one point of contention was Helfrich claimed "we don't have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem," to which his opposition, Williams, said "we do have a revenue problem."
"There's not enough money to pay for the basic services," she noted.
She also mentioned that a lot of budgeting methods for school districts take time away from planning programming and curricula for students.
For the county commissioner candidates, transportation was a hot-button issue. One audience member asked, "When is the road between Highways 212 and 26 going to be fixed?" Mayor Bill King actually chimed with news from ODOT that construction on the heavily-trafficked road would begin in about 10 days.
In the race for Clackamas County Clerk, several people asked some standard operation questions and also how the candidates will ensure elections security and also keep the office nonpartisan.
Incumbent Sherry Hall noted that she never takes endorsements.
"Elections are about process not politics, so in the office they're not spoken," she said.
Opponent Pamela White introduced the idea of "(getting) to know the party leadership and make sure they feel like they can engage with us."
Sherry Healy added that she wants the clerk elections process to be so secure that party affiliation of the staff doesn't matter.
Though none of the candidates hail from the Sandy area, many questions asked pertained to how residents of the rural community would be represented.
Responding to the question, "What, in your opinion, is the most important issue in Sandy?" Williams said affordable housing, transportation and being able to "live where you work."
Recognizing that many in the Sandy area feel underrepresented on the commission, Clackamas County Commissioner Paul Savas said he was for delegating commissioner zones. He explained that the county had the system before and he thought "that representation works well."
His opposition, Peter Winter, said "As a resident of unincorporated Clackamas County, I can tell you you probably are (underrepresented).
"We should be electing people from within our neighborhoods," Winter added. "I'm a sole breadwinner of my family. I live in a multi-generational home, but I'm putting my life on hold ... because I care about my community."