House District 52 candidates talk PERS funding, regional issues
With the deadline to register and vote in the general election looming, The Post spoke with the two candidates for House District 52 to find out where they stand on contemporary issues and remind constituents of their options come Nov. 6.
The deadline to register is Oct. 18. Visit www.OregonVotes.gov/myvote.
Running to represent District 52 in the House are incumbent Rep. Jeff Helfrich (R-Hood River) and Anna Williams (D-Hood River).
Helfrich was appointed to former Rep. Mark Johnson's seat after Johnson's mid-term resignation at the end of 2017.
Helfrich is a longtime public servant. He served on the Cascade Locks Planning Commission and City Council, the Mid-Columbia Economic Development District Board, in the Air Force during the Gulf War and as a Portland police sergeant.
Williams is an academic adviser for social work students at Simmons College and has taught in middle and high schools in the Hood River, North Wasco, and Dufur School Districts.
Most of Williams' political experience has advocated for communities along the Columbia River Gorge with groups like Aging in the Gorge Alliance, a regional grassroots organization that campaigns for elderly rights including housing, food, transportation and caregiving, and with non-profit groups, which focus on "safety for women and children, senior services, health care, building effective partnerships with law enforcement, courts, schools, and public health," according to her online statement.
The Sandy Post: Which ballot measures are you personally opposing/supporting?
Rep. Jeff Helfrich:
Measure 102: Support
Measure 103: Support
Measure 104: Support
Measure 105: Oppose
Measure 106: I do not yet have enough information about this measure and look forward to making an informed decision.
Anna Williams:I am personally opposing M105, as our current system of separation of powers allows our local police to focus on solving and stopping crimes in our communities. We don't have additional funding for local law enforcement agencies to tackle federal immigration enforcement on top of their current responsibilities. So many law enforcement agencies throughout the state are concerned about M105, because they fear that the added responsibilities will take them away from their key job, and make all Oregonians less safe. As a mom, I can't argue with that. I also oppose 104 and 103. Both are misleading and will make it tougher for our kids to get the education they deserve and harder for seniors to get the care they need. I am against 106 due to my reliance on public health outcomes research. Multiple studies have shown that legal access to abortion for low-income women is critical for women and children to rise out of poverty, access living wage jobs and enhance safety from abuse and violence. In addition, M106 would reduce the options currently available to over 77,000 state employees. Every Oregonian should have access to the full range of reproductive health care, from preventive care through postpartum care. I support M 102. Creative solutions for housing should be encouraged and explored. This measure would lift the current ban which prevents local governments from working with nonprofits and local businesses to build affordable housing with bonds. This will help local housing dollars go farther, helping communities craft local solutions to address their housing challenges. I strongly support policies that will help local communities build more affordable housing for seniors, people with disabilities, veterans and families across Oregon.
Post: What parts of the district have you visited and what was your opinion?
Helfrich: I have made it my goal to visit every community in the district. I have been able to accomplish that goal. We have a very diverse district and yet we all face the same challenges. I truly believe that our district is one of the most diverse in the state with the scenic wonders that it encompasses and the people that live here. I'm extremely proud that I represent this great district.
Williams: I have been in Cascade Locks, Corbett, Troutdale, Gresham, Sandy, Hood River, Parkdale, Rhododendron, Hoodland, Welches, Odell, Pine Grove, and in rural places in between. This is absolutely the most beautiful district in Oregon, and the people in every town/city I've been to have been gracious and welcoming. We are all struggling with housing, but our challenges are quite different. Schools and education funding is a concern across the district, and some of us are really challenged by property taxes, income taxes and rising costs for gas and groceries. Prescription drug costs are also a theme across the district — everyone knows someone who is struggling to maintain their health due to the high prices of medicine. As a working mom, these are the same concerns that keep me up at night.
Post: What issues have you learned about since beginning your campaign?
Helfrich: Some of the main issues I consistently hear about are the rising cost of living, the quality of our schools and the safety of our communities. I've worked hard to address these priorities as the state representative and will continue to work together to get things done.
I have pledged to have an open door for anyone who has an idea about how to make our state better. There are no bad ideas. I will always be someone who listens to people from every corner of our communities and someone who is willing to work across party lines to get things done. My top priority as state representative is to improve the lives of the residents of the district.Rising cost of living: Oregonians all across our state are feeling the impacts of the rising cost of living. I will always fight for policies that protect your pocketbook and push back on unaffordable tax increases coming out of Salem. I will also fight for more affordable housing in our communities. Quality schools: I believe that our children are our most precious natural resource. I will always be a champion for fully funding our schools so that teachers and students have the resources they need to be successful. Safe communities: I am working on a bill for the 2019 legislative session that would lift the statute of limitations on sexual assault cases. There should never be a clock on justice for these violent crimes.
Williams: I have learned how housing costs and shortages are impacting people across the district, and the different concerns and solutions that might work in different parts of the district. The rural parts of this community have some of the highest housing costs of any rural communities in the nation. Our wages can't keep pace with that, and it's hurting Oregonians. I have learned about how unions work to improve quality of life for their workers, and how powerful that work can be for improving wages, insurance and workplace safety, as well as on-the-job training. I have learned how nuanced tax policy and agriculture policy can be, and I've learned from farmers and environmentalists alike that the idea that we have to choose between farms and families is a false one.
I plan to work with the Legislature, in both houses and on both sides of the aisle, to provide a variety of tools and supports for affordable housing. I plan to bring people I met on the doors to testify on relevant topics, to elevate their voices in Salem rather than use my own interpretation. I plan to meet regularly with representatives from agriculture, migrant workers, housing officials and those struggling with housing, and other parties to continue to learn from them how we can improve our effectiveness with regard to these policies. I plan to be honest and transparent, and to listen to (or read) every bit of feedback I get from my constituents. In my work as a social worker, I've been inside the homes of people in every corner of this community and I've worked hard to create solutions to help them. When I saw that seniors were struggling with isolation and transportation to and from medical appointments, I helped build the Aging in the Gorge Alliance. I've been doing this work regionally for years. I'm ready to use my experience to benefit every Oregonian.
Post: If there is indeed a housing crisis in Oregon, how can it be overcome?
Helfrich: We are facing a housing crisis. Families are being priced out of homes, struggling to keep up with the rising cost of rent or being forced to live on the streets. This is unacceptable. I believe we need a comprehensive approach to solving this problem: one that includes an increase in the supply of land to make housing more affordable and available, and includes protections for renters against predatory landlords.
Williams: There is a housing crisis up and down the West Coast. Oregon is not in a bubble with our lack of appropriate housing. Wages and income have not risen nearly as quickly as housing costs have, so continuing to make progress on increasing wages/income will help. Health care costs continue to rise beyond what many can afford, and addressing this with better insurance options, transparency in prescription drug costs and coverage for all will help people afford appropriate housing. Public/private partnerships will help us build more housing, which is appropriate for low-income people, the elderly and other people who need affordable housing. However, this type of housing must be deed protected, or it loses its value as affordable housing after it sells to a second buyer.
Post: What efforts do you propose to solve the problems with PERS?
Helfrich: This is a big issue and in Salem it seems that nobody is willing to step up and help address it. If we fail to address our pension liabilities, then we will have even fewer school days and teachers, and cuts to health care. Unfortunately, many communities are already suffering these consequences. We need to pass laws that prevent pension spiking, cap benefits for retirees making over $100,000 a year, and make responsible choices about the pension plans we offer moving forward.
Williams: Our public employees sacrifice a lot to help us. They teach our kids in overcrowded classrooms; they run into burning buildings; and they protect us from crime. The least they deserve is a stable and secure retirement. It's a promise that was made and must be kept.
The PERS liability should be addressed, but not on the backs of hardworking public servants who rely on a stable retirement ... Instead, I want to make sure that the state has the ability to pay down the liability while increasing its investment in critical services like education. The (January) session put together a bank account where schools and public entities can have their PERS contributions matched by the state, to decrease their liability. This program should be expanded and the match increased, using money from marijuana sales and other revenue sources.
Post: Democrats in the Legislature are close to having a supermajority allowing them to raise taxes without negotiation or consideration from the other party. Is this a healthy and representative way to govern?
Helfrich: Whether it's Republicans or Democrats, I think one party having complete control of government is not good for democracy. Government functions best when we have balance and all ideas are heard and vetted. I am especially concerned about the prospects of "supermajorities" in Oregon, which would allow Democrats to raise taxes at will despite any objections from the opposing party.
As a police officer, when I was called to someone's home to help solve a problem, party affiliation was not part of my decision-making process. I take it that same approach to Salem. If I hear a good idea or find one we can improve upon, I will do so regardless of party and work with my colleagues across the building to get it passed. Using that approach, I was able to pass two bills that were signed into law earlier this year.
Williams: I will vote on issues based on what's best for my district, not what any party wants me to do. I am a working mom and teacher who will stay true to my values and to the needs of the district. I will fight hard for the climate, standing with farmers and orchardists to make sure they have a relevant and positive role in climate mitigation. I will protect land-use laws against the push for increased buildable lands for affordable housing. (If we build over the farmlands, what will we eat?) I will stand with workers and their unions and help them carve out a positive position on Clean Energy Jobs and future infrastructure projects to ensure ongoing economic development across the state. I will stand with our police officers and firefighters to seek appropriate funding for public safety costs related to tourism and climate change. I will stand with students, parents and teachers in small towns to keep their schools open.
Post: Would you support a Constitutional amendment to implement a sales tax — with sunset date built in — for the sole purpose of paying the PERS debt?
Helfrich: We need to identify ways to bring down our PERS debt through more efficient budgeting. We need to see what programs are working and find the ones that need to be more effective before we ask Oregon taxpayers for more of their hard-earned money.
Williams: I oppose sales taxes because they hurt working people more than those who are better able to pay. I also am extremely skeptical of putting every idea — good, bad, or otherwise — into the state Constitution.
Post: The Oregon Legislature passed HB-4145 which would bar more people involved in domestic violence situations from owning guns. Could you explain your opposition or support for this bill?
Helfrich: As a retired police officer, I believe we need to focus our energy on ensuring that our law enforcement officers have the resources they need to protect our communities from all kinds of violence, including gun violence.
(House Bill 4145) is not designed to address school gun violence or close the "loophole" for children or adults who are in non-qualifying family, household member or intimate relationships.
HB4145 does not provide funding to law enforcement agencies for more officers or additional space to prevent forced or early release due to jail overcrowding. (It) also does not provide funding for data collection or reporting systems needed for compliance with the law. As a lawmaker, I do not want to pass unfunded mandates. That is why I have submitted a legislative concept to study the effects of this bill and I look forward to working with my fellow legislators to identify funding sources to help address the issues that my bill will identify.
Williams: I support this bill. I have worked as a social worker in domestic and sexual violence, and I know how the threat of gun violence keeps women and children stuck in violent homes. I have seen how terrifying it can be for police officers to respond to DV calls when guns are present, as the risk to their lives and safety are significantly increased when guns are present at these types of calls. I know that violent offenders with access to firearms are more likely to commit lethal violence than almost any other category of person. If someone has been found by a judge to be a gun violence risk, having their gun rights temporarily removed is an appropriate accountability and safety tool.
Post: What are your plans for your first 100 days in office if elected?
Helfrich: As the current State Representative for House District 52, I have submitted several legislative concepts I will work to pass in 2019. I plan to testify in support of these bills and work to earn the support of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle. More broadly, I believe we need to get the state's financial house in order. Revenues are at an all-time high, yet school districts around the state are being forced to make cuts. There's something wrong with this picture. We need to be fiscally responsible with the public's money in our government.
Williams: In my first hundred days, I plan to learn my role as a legislator, set up community meetings in each city in my district, and find my place in Salem as well as I can. I plan to question the status quo about how business is conducted in the halls of the Capitol. We're a long way from Salem up here, and I want to make sure that the voices of this community are heard. As far as policy, I will wait to learn my committee appointments before planning specific proposals.
Post: What will you do if not elected? Will you remain involved in the area?
Helfrich: I have two young kids and I care about their future. I will do whatever I can to support them and to make sure this district and Oregon continue to be a great place to live, work and raise a family.
Williams: Whether I am elected or not, the stories I have heard on the doors of voters across this district will motivate me. I plan to continue my involvement on housing, immigration, environment, veterans' services, and healthcare. If I am not elected, I will continue my volunteer work in this community and keep working for positive change for the people of this district. I will also be traveling to Salem, possibly with voters I met on the doors, to lobby our elected representatives to stand up for rural progressive policies in Salem.
Post: Why should you be elected?
Helfrich: Public service is a way of life for me, I've always been driven to serve. I served in the U.S. Air Force, including overseas in the First Gulf War. I spent more than 25 years as a police officer. As the current House District 52 State Representative, I take seriously my obligation to ensure that the voices of district are heard in Salem and I will be someone who works with members of all parties to get things done.
Williams: I should be elected because I care about the people who live in HD 52, their concerns and successes, and I share our values. I have the experience on the ground to protect what's best about our district, while improving school funding, housing access, health care, and environmental protections. As a working mom, an educator, and a social worker, I have the experience needed to bring our values to Salem. I've seen first-hand the challenges students and teachers face in our district. In my career, I've seen the impact on seniors when they don't get the care or respect they deserve. And obviously, we live in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Democrats, Republicans and independents all want to see our natural heritage preserved, our seniors respected and our kids healthy and strong. So do I. That's why I'm running.