Senate candidates talk safety, housing, PERS crisis
With the deadline to register and vote in the General Election looming, The Post spoke with the two candidates for Senate District 26 to find out where they stand on contemporary issues and remind constituents of their options come Nov. 6.
The deadline to register is Oct. 16 and registration can be done online at www.OregonVotes.gov/myvote.
Running to represent District 26 in the Senate are incumbent Sen. Chuck Thomsen (R-Hood River) and Chrissy Reitz (D-Hood River).
Thomsen has served the district since 2011. Before taking his seat in Salem, Thomsen served for four years on the Hood River Planning Commission, 16 years on the Hood River County Commission and also volunteered with the Pine Grove Fire Department for 31 years while living and working on his family's pear farm.
According to his website, Sen. Thomsen's main goals in the Legislature are to "balance Oregon's budget without raising taxes, and promote economic growth through a better job economy."
As a member of the Hood River County School Board and a former neonatal nurse, the key components of Reitz' platform are children's education and health care.
Besides serving on the school board, Reitz is an active community volunteer, working to raise money for physical education classes with events like the Gorge Kids Triathlon, which she founded in 2011 to benefit Hood River Valley Elementary school.
SANDY POST: Which ballot measures are you personally opposing/supporting?
SEN. CHUCK THOMSEN: None at this time, and I do not believe I have ever intervened for or against a ballot measure. What I try to do is to properly follow up on them, such as Measure 98 two years ago. It passed by a huge margin and allocated funding to career technical education and job readiness for students. When the Legislature tried to swing back around and cut those funds, I resisted the effort and helped secure much of the funding for those programs.
CHRISSY REITZ: (I support) Measure 102. (I oppose) Measures 105, 106.
POST: What parts of the district have you visited and what was your opinion?
THOMSEN: There might be a few roads in Senate District 26 I have yet to drive, but I can say I have now door-knocked every "walkable" home in the district at some point since 2010. So there's nowhere I haven't visited. There are differences in the regions, but there is also a lot in common. People want common sense, and they want us to get things done that benefit all Oregonians whether they live in Southeast Portland or up on the mountain.
REITZ: I have spent time in all communities in the district, large and small. I have spent time engaging voters in Hood River, Sandy, Happy Valley, East Portland, Corbett, Cascade Locks, Boring, Clackamas, Parkdale, Welches and beyond. My opinion and takeaway from each visit is always different, because each community is unique. Ultimately, however, residents everywhere all value the same things: good schools for their children, safe, affordable housing close to where they work, a healthy local environment, accessible healthcare and a thriving local economy. Spending time in various parts of the district has helped me understand how the solutions to these issues look different in every part of Oregon, and that we must think thoughtfully and critically about what is best for each individual community.
POST: What issues have you learned about since beginning your campaign? How do you plan to address them if elected?
THOMSEN: I'll highlight the one that struck me — safety. These days as I knock doors, it's common to see cameras on homes — eight years ago that was rare. I hear about things like local break-ins, car thefts and neighborhood watch efforts more than I used to. Knocking doors helped me really grasp how universal these problems have become.
Law enforcement must be better supplemented through the right avenues. Cities and counties can't be stretched so thin that they have to cut law enforcement. The State Police cannot continue to have their share of funding whittled away. I believe in setting a constitutional budget threshold that education and law enforcement funding cannot fall below.
REITZ: The issues I've heard about since I've started my campaign have mostly remained consistent with what I already knew was true about the needs of our state. They're the very same reasons that prompted me to enter this campaign.
POST: If there is indeed a housing crisis in Oregon, how can it be overcome?
THOMSEN: I agree that a housing crisis exists but it's not responsible to blame it all on one thing. I know left and right economists tend to denounce rent control. I believe a broad reduction in barriers to housing would be more effective, organic and painless than one government act. My bill last session with Sen. Peter Courtney (D-Salem) did not make it through committee, but we believe we can pass it next session. It incentivizes improvements and growth in workforce housing. Numerous programs such as that would help ease the market as a whole.
REITZ: Oregon's housing crisis is real and significant. This district has been one of the most dramatically hit in the nation, as rural housing costs have outpaced wages in our area. That means seniors with fixed incomes are being displaced by sudden rent increases, young families are unable to move back to the communities they grew up in to raise their children, and students bounce from school to school with every move. It's untenable.
The housing crisis is not a one-solution-fits-all problem, and we know that stable housing not only provides a baseline for health and well-being, it also ensures that families have shelter, a sense of community and a place to feel at home. It is critical that we find short- and long-term solutions with the goal of providing affordable and stable homes for all Oregonians.
POST: What efforts do you propose to solve the problems with PERS?
THOMSEN: We have to work with options we have available. PERS can be adjusted and negotiated in the long-term with different plans for new public employees, such as state employees contributing a share. It's extremely difficult to adjust existing contracts as the courts would strike them down. It's the only realistic solution, even though it doesn't get much applause
REITZ: I have seen the burden that under-funding puts on our school districts first-hand. As a school board member, I have worked on our district budget many times, and this is always a unique challenge. We must uphold the promise made to our teachers and other public employees, seeing as the Oregon Supreme Court has ruled we must honor individual contracts — and I strongly believe that our dedicated public employees deserve a secure retirement. This means that all solutions regarding the unfunded PERS liability must take us forward from this point, not backwards. I am eager to look more into potential solutions in the 2019 legislative session.
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?
THOMSEN: I cannot stress enough how important balance is. In 2010 we had a split House in Oregon, and those dynamics helped generate an extra $1 billion for K-12. I've seen firsthand how one party rule tends to hurt vital budget items whether intentional or not. Problems just tend to calcify more as bad habits turn into normal routines.
REITZ: I believe that politics work best when one can work across the aisle to find mutual understandings through respectful discourse. If elected, I will use my own experiences and expertise to work with my colleagues to find the best outcomes for my constituents, and will value the perspectives that are different from my own. I will thoroughly consider each bill by collecting information from those around me, learning from my constituents and stakeholders, and will work to make decisions that are reflective of Oregonian values.
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?
THOMSEN: I was a no. I support programs that reduce domestic violence and always have. Oregon's background check system can get pretty bogged down and I supported the bill's amendment, which would allocate more funding to the State Police to implement the bill. The amendment was not included, so it would basically be an unfunded mandate, which is telling. There also was no sunset on HB 4145 so if it proves not to work, it'll still exist.
REITZ: I believe this is a key point of contrast in my race. I supported the passage of the HB 4145, or closing the "Boyfriend Loophole." As a mother and a school board member, I have seen the need for increased common-sense gun safety measures in our schools, and this is an issue that must be taken seriously. I believe there are some ways the state can ensure Oregonians are safe from gun violence outside of schools as well. Simply put, I support responsible gun ownership, and believe that we have a responsibility to ensure that guns do not fall into the hands of those who don't need them. Convicted domestic abusers and stalkers should not have access to firearms.
POST: What are your plans for your first 100 days in office if elected?
THOMSEN: I always press hard for the K-12 Budget to be funded robustly within 100 days. Oftentimes opportunities present themselves. So much has to do with relationships, and knowing where opportunities arise to help your district. Last session when I locked in $500,000 for economic development in fire impacted Cascade Locks, it was an 11th-hour move that was not planned for. I just saw the chance in Capital Construction and took it to help the community get back on its feet.
REITZ: My first plan is to learn from my constituents in all parts of Senate District 26 what the immediate and long-term needs are for the district. I have learned a lot about what families in our area need, simply by knocking on their doors and having conversations with them. I am eager to continue learning how I can best serve the residents of SD26, and what that may entail in terms of state policy. I am also eager to begin working on legislation that addresses some of the most critical issues affecting people all across Oregon, including housing and healthcare affordability, and our underfunded education system.
POST: Why should you be elected?
THOMSEN: Oregon needs balance. To move forward we can't behave in extreme or reactive ways. With eight years of experience now, and seeing major shifts in the majority's actions and tone in the legislature, I believe the balance I add is critical.
REITZ: Senate District 26 is large and diverse, with many different, unique communities ranging all the way from East Portland, to Happy Valley, to Hood River, to Sandy. Residents here deserve an active champion who knows our communities and is ready to do the hard work on the issues that affect them and their families — no matter what those issues are and where they live. I have been a resident of Hood River for over 15 years, involving myself in conversations about housing, safety and transportation, the environment, local economy, and of course, our local schools. That work, and the time I've spent meeting with members of this community, has given me the hands-on knowledge and understanding of this unique area that it takes to be an effective and passionate voice for us in state government. State Senator for District 26 is not just a title to me, but rather a unique opportunity to continue doing the work I've always done: serving our community so that all kids and families have the chance to truly thrive. I will be a new, dynamic voice for people in Senate District 26, and I am looking forward to working thoughtfully and diligently on the issues that are important to our community.
POST: What will you do if not elected?
THOMSEN: I've been involved in my community my whole life and always will be. I was a 36-year volunteer firefighter, 16-year nonpartisan county commissioner, and a coach and referee in youth sports. I'm also a fourth-generation orchardist so I'm very connected to my community.
REITZ: If I am not elected to represent Senate District 26 in November, I will continue the work I have always done to support kids and families in our community. This means continuing my work as chair of the Hood River County School Board, working to ensure all children have a fair shot at a quality education. I will also continue fighting for families by advocating for affordable, accessible health care, especially in the rural communities that make up my district. I will continue working hard to better our community through my volunteer efforts in Hood River, such as reading to kids in SMART, supporting our annual Gorge Kids Triathlon to bring money for physical and health education classes into local schools, and helping out at the Hood River Warming Shelter and the annual Music Festival of the Gorge.