Meet the candidates

Several Democrats, as well as one Republican and one independent, have signaled their intent to challenge Rep. Greg Walden by filing for office with the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office. Two Democrats at Monday’s forum have not yet filed but have announced their campaigns and created campaign websites. The candidates:

Eric Burnette, Democrat: Burnette, 62, is the retired executive director of the Oregon Board of Maritime Pilots and a Hood River resident who lives two blocks from Walden. He has not yet filed to run with the Secretary of State’s Office but participated in Monday’s forum.

Michael Byrne, Democrat: Byrne, 65, is a stonemason in Hood River. He has not yet filed to run with the Secretary of State’s office but did attend Monday’s forum.

Jim Crary, Democrat: Crary, 65, is a retired contract negotiator and Vietnam era veteran who lives in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. He was the Democratic nominee for Walden’s seat in 2016. crary4congress.com

Jamie McLeod-Skinner, Democrat: McLeod-Skinner, 50, is a former engineer, planner and Santa Clara, California, city council member who splits her time between Redmond and Ashland. mcleodskinner4or.org

Mark Roberts, independent: Roberts, 52, is a truck driver from Medford. His website will not be online until January.

Paul J. Romero Jr., Republican: Romero, 51, is an appliance field service technician from Prineville. He challenged Walden from the right in 2016. romero4oregon.com

Tim White, Democrat: White, 61, is a retired Chrysler division chief financial officer who lives in Bend. timwhiteoregoncd2.com

Five candidates hoping to harness a swell of Democratic energy to defeat longtime Republican Rep. Greg Walden answered questions on gun control, immigration, taxes and climate change Tuesday in Bend.

Walden, the only Republican member of Oregon’s congressional delegation and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has represented a vast swath of the state since 1999. He won all 20 counties in his district in 2016, but Democrats in the district have vocally criticized him for his role as one of the lead authors of an unsuccessful Republican attempt to appeal the Obama administration’s signature health care law and a consistent pro-Trump voting record.

Democrats around the country have been invigorated since Donald Trump’s win, and it showed in last week’s off-year elections with major victories in Virginia, New Jersey and Washington state and with a tightening race in Alabama to fill Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ former Senate seat.

While none of the Democratic candidates who ran in special elections earlier this year for other seats left empty by Trump Cabinet appointees won, they all significantly narrowed the gap in previously safe Republican districts.

Five of the six candidates who came to a Tuesday event at the Deschutes County Services Building hope to use that energy to replace Walden. Ross Wordhouse, a 49-year-old creative director and inventor from Bend, used his introductory time to announce that he was stepping away from the race.

On health care

Eric Burnette, a 62-year-old retiree from Hood River, said he chose to run against Walden, his neighbor and someone he’s voted for in the past, because of Walden’s role as one of the lead authors of a Republican attempt to appeal the Obama administration’s signature health care law.

“I watched Greg Walden write with his full knowledge legislation that would have knocked 10,000 or 20,000 or 30,000 of his own constituents off health care,” he said.

Jim Crary, the 2016 Democratic nominee and a 65-year-old retiree and veteran who lives near Ashland, said he sided with Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, on giving everyone access to Medicare. This single-payer plan, in which the government and not insurance companies would ultimately pay for health care expenses, has gained significant support from liberals in the past year.

“It’s the only think that makes sense for me,” Crary said. “If it works for people who are 65 and older, it’ll work for people who are 64 and younger.”

On gun control

Debates over gun rights aren’t really about the Second Amendment, said Tim White, a 61-year-old retiree from Bend. They’re about a multimillion-dollar gun industry supported by the 5 million members of the National Rifle Association, he said.

“I treat guns the same way that I treat abortion and illegal immigration,” White said. Those are three things the other side uses to divide us.”

Jamie McLeod-Skinner, a 50-year-old former city councilwoman who splits her time between Redmond and Ashland, said it’s important to balance gun safety with the cultural tradition of hunting in rural areas. Restricting higher calibers and requiring people to obtain licenses for guns in the same way they do for cars are both good ideas, she said.

“Let’s understand that there’s a cultural aspect associated with guns, and that’s very true in Central and Eastern Oregon,” she said.

Crary, a longtime hunter, said he supports the right to use guns to hunt, but nobody needs an assault rifle, silencer or large clip to hunt.

“If you can’t hit the deer on the second or third shot, you shouldn’t be shooting,” he said.

On immigration

People who immigrated to the country illegally are already a part of the American workforce, Burnette said, noting that orchards near his and Walden’s hometown have trouble finding workers. Most immigrants here are hardworking people who follow American laws, he said.

“We need these people here,” he said. “If they are here and they’ve been law-abiding citizens for a long time, let’s take a look at getting them citizenship.”

American corporate policies brought undocumented immigrants to the country, said Michael Byrne, a 65-year-old stonemason from Hood River. Instead of going after the individual immigrants, he said the government should penalize major companies like Tyson Foods that benefit from the labor of immigrants in the country illegally.

On climate change

“On this issue, those of us who have gray hair should be apologizing to the children for what we’re handing over to them,” McLeod-Skinner said. “It’s shameful.”

The government needs to stop subsidizing fossil fuel industries and start investing more in research that will develop clean energy, she said.

The federal government should undertake a moonshot initiative to get entirely electric vehicles, Crary said.

“I don’t care if you do a cap and trade or a carbon tax. We don’t have the luxury of fiddling while Rome and the rest of the world literally burns.”

Byrne and Burnette both said the market is addressing climate change despite the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accords.

On taxes

Candidates all spoke against the current Republican tax plan, which critics say will burden middle-class households while giving tax breaks to corporations and the richest Americans.

The current 35 percent tax for corporations is acceptable, White said, but corporations end up paying on average only 18 percent.

“They should be paying their fair share,” he said. They’re not currently paying their fair share.”

As part of a tax plan, Burnette suggested establishing a $15-per-hour minimum wage and only taxing income above $15 per hour.

The tax code should incentivize access to higher education and include a two-year rolling tax system for family farms, which can be devastated by one bad year, McLeod-Skinner said.

“Taxes are not bad things,” she said. “That’s how we pay for our infrastructure.”

On flipping Walden’s district

Walden won his 2016 race by more than 44 points, and the Cook Partisan Voting Index, which measures how strongly Congressional districts lean toward the two major political parties, gave his district a score of R+11, meaning it is a solid Republican district.

“If every Democrat voted for one of us up here, we’d lose,” White said. “What we need is to convince 101,000 people who haven’t voted for Democrats.”

He’ll do this by focusing on a message of economic opportunity, not abortion, guns or immigration, he said.

The only way Democrats will win in Walden’s district or in other rural districts is by offering a real alternative to the Republican party’s policies, not by trying to run as “Republican light,” Burnette said.

“Red rural America already has a Republican party,” he said. “They seem to like it.”

McLeod-Skinner said she’s put 10,000 miles on her car in the past few months traveling the district and talking to people. People throughout the state, even Republicans, have told her they won’t vote for Walden again because of health care, forest management and the economy, she said.

“We need to show that we’re committed to solving problems, to helping local communities solve local issues,” McLeod-Skinner said.

— Reporter: 541-633-2160; jshumway@bendbulletin.com

Editor’s note: This article has been corrected. The original version misstated Jim Crary’s military service. The Bulletin regrets the error.

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