State, local candidates express visions to WL community
Approximately 200 West Linn community members crowded the West Linn High School auditorium to hear state and local candidates' stances on issues like mental health, gun legislation, homelessness, forest fires, parking and traffic congestion.
On Oct. 17, the WLHS Lobby Club — where students learn how to evoke change and lobby Oregon legislators on bills of importance — hosted the November Election Candidate Forum and devised three questions prior to the forum for state and local candidates, before allowing the audience to ask questions.
The spotlight was on State Senate candidate David Poulson because the second candidate, Rob Wagner, was absent due to a work commitment. House of Representatives candidates Rachel Prusak and Julie Parrish were present and West Linn City Council candidate Jules Walters attended the forum, while Bill Relyea was absent due to a Planning Commission meeting.
After opening statements, candidates had two minutes to address each question.
One student asked state-level candidates if they believed additional gun control measures are needed in Oregon.
Prusak asked the audience how many people have prepared for a shootout drill, and who had thought about which people they would text if a gunman entered a school. Many hands went up.
"This is unacceptable," said Prusak, adding that she is a gun violence survivor. "I understand the trauma you are all going through and we must do something about it."
Prusak discussed the importance of adding gun storage laws to decrease accidental deaths, while Parrish said she would address mental illness and suicide prevention.
"84 percent of the gun deaths in this state are suicide and they're usually with a handgun," Parrish said. "If we could have one thing, it would be to … have a system for an adjudicated mental health status."
Poulson focused on social development problems.
"Just because we look like adults doesnt mean we've matured to act like adults," Poulson said, adding that people spend too much time playing video games and are lacking human interaction and empathy. "We need to get together as a community to try to understand who those are that don't have the correct social development … because those ones are living in a world that maybe they're a school shooter because they wound up playing some little game and they don't look at other people as people; they're just inanimate objects."
Another question posed by students asked what state candidates thought should be done to address Oregon's low graduation rates. The follow-up question asked if changes were needed in the Public Employee Retirement System.
To save time, Poulson only addressed graduation rates and said he would advocate for tweaking curriculums so that it's more applicable to life outside of school.
"If each and every one of you were presented with information that's consistent with your learning system and we could stimulate your interest that way by providing information that's relevant and meaningful to your lives, just to get you interested in learning, then we will have a much more robust educational system," Poulson said. "I think you'll see those graduation rates skyrocket and the dropout rates go down."
Parrish talked about addressing cost and creating a proficiency model that would give students who are ahead the extra push to graduate earlier.
"You can't have an education budget that grows by 37 percent — from $5.5 billion to $8.2 billion and have 54 percent of the state school fund be swallowed by PERS," Parrish said. "We have more money in our general fund than we've ever had and it's still not enough."
She said her son graduated high school in three years, obtaining more than 70 college credits, which saved the state's school fund about $20,000.
"We have to address cost and that means we have to look at all of the cost," she said.
On the other hand, Prusak said she would fight for revenue reform to achieve stable and predictable funding, smaller class sizes and a longer school year.
In response to a question asking if candidates had received National Rifle Association campaign contributions, each candidate replied no, though Parrish has in the past.
After questioned about whether the state should provide abortion funds using taxpayer dollars for victims of incest and rape, each candidate was in support, but Poulson said in other circumstances besides incest and rape, abortions should not be funded using public dollars because of peoples' religious beliefs.
"We shouldn't determine who gets to have what procedure," Prusak said about abortions.
To look at concerns closer to home, Jules Walters addressed the issue of inadequate parking on the WLHS campus. Her daughter had to arrive to school before 6 a.m. to find parking for an early morning class and ended up dropping the class because it was too strenuous to get to campus that early for parking. Walters said compromise is key but that the ball is in the council's court.
A student asked Walters her opinion on what the city should do to protect green spaces from development and if Walters promotes or discourages residential and commercial development in West Linn.
Walters said that most large pieces of land are already developed in the city and that it's important, especially for residential projects, that the City pays attention to how houses are built so homes aren't too close together and parking is adequate.
"I would love to see what's going to happen with our waterfront," Walters said about commercial development. "There's some land use issues and transportation issues that are still keeping that project on hold but that will be a great space to create a town center for West Linn with lodging, dining shops, museums and other great activities."
To increase public transit use and decrease automobile congestion along Highway 43, Walters said better public transit is needed but understands it might be difficult to switch from driving to public transit if the commute is far.
"We need to get people to stop diverting off Stafford and then careening through Rosemont Ridge to get through town," she said.
Walters also addressed ways to increase community involvement and council accessibility.
"It's hard for people like me — like us in the room — it's hard to make it to the meetings," she said. "Technology is changing. There's new avenues and better avenues to engage people. We need to be going out to the city and engaging people where they are."
Ultimately, Walters hopes to bring awareness to the schools if elected to serve on the city council.
"These are excellent schools, excellent kids," she said. "They're not driving off in their cars and doing drugs and throwing litter out the windows. Anybody that knows these kids, knows they're great kids, so that's what I hope to bring to city council."