Washington County District Attorney Kevin Barton and challenger Brian Decker faced off in a spirited debate Wednesday, April 20, at the Westside Commons in Hillsboro.
The two candidates are "nothing alike — at all," in the words of the incumbent. They have starkly different opinions on what the justice system should look like and how the DA's Office should function.
During the debate, which was moderated by Ed Kroll from the Washington County Bar Association, Barton said he fears that Decker's "extreme" ideals will turn the country in the direction of Portland, while Decker pointed out the problems he sees with Barton's record during his four years as DA.
"The most important qualification for this job and deciding what the next four years are going to look like, is looking at how things are now and what Kevin Barton has done over the last four years," Decker said in an interview. "And he hasn't learned the thing about the mistakes he's made. He'd rather talk about Portland."
Barton said he brings up Portland because the "approach to public safety" in Multnomah County has led to increased crime rates. As he's said in the past, Barton doesn't think the challenger can keep Washington County safe — like he has while in office.
In fact, Barton calls this election a "referendum on public safety" in Washington County.
As one "mistake" Barton has made during his career, Decker brought up a case from 2015 when then-prosecutor Barton excluded a Black man from serving on a jury. The Court of Appeals overturned the 2015 conviction in 2019 and ruled that Barton made the decision because of the juror's race.
Barton, however, said he couldn't have known the man was Black when he made the decision and disagrees with the Court of Appeals' ruling.
The challenger also discussed a more recent case where a former nurse from Coffee Creek Correctional Facility was indicted for allegedly sexually abusing 27 inmates at the women's prison, and Barton's office didn't prosecute the nurse.
Barton's response? His office made its decision in 2018 with the evidence that was available at the time, he said. Now, he's glad the U.S. Attorney's Office was able to finally file charges, and he supports it 100%, he said.
Another reason Barton believes he is more fit for office is his list of supporters, which includes every police chief from the main cities in Washington County, police officers association leaders and the mayors of Hillsboro, Tigard, Sherwood, North Plains, Durham, Forest Grove and King City.
Decker, on the other hand, reps the endorsements of the Oregon Progressive Party, Washington County Democrats, several local unions, and some cultural and restorative justice-related PACs and organizations. Beaverton Mayor Lacey Beaty is the only mayor on his list.
Decker openly runs on a progressive campaign, aligning his values with the Democratic Party. Barton, who separated himself from the Republican Party before running for DA, critiques this because the nonpartisan DA should "serve everyone."
Decker, however, doesn't think it's a problem.
"I don't think that you need to hide who you are to run the office," Decker said.
Both candidates have different opinions on what the future of public safety and criminal justice should look like, too. Barton and Decker both mention "reform," but they don't agree on what it means.
Washington County has several specialty courts for veterans, people dealing with mental health and addiction and more. Barton introduced some of these programs while working as DA.
Decker doesn't think the courts are enough — or being used well — but Barton thinks they're exactly the "responsible reforms" the justice system needs to address the root causes of crime.
While both candidates said they were pleased with how the debate went Wednesday night, it's clear that voters have a choice between two polar opposite candidates. Barton said that might even be a good thing.
"I think that actually allows people to make a really good and well-informed decision," he said.
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