SUNRIVER — A standing-room-only crowd, with people spilling out into a hallway, gathered inside a library Saturday to hear a lineup of challengers running against longtime U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River.
The candidates included six Democrats: Eric Burnette, Michael Byrne, James Crary, Jamie McLeod-Skinner, Jennifer Neahring and Tim S. White.
Independent Party candidate Mark Roberts and Libertarian Party candidate Decker Cleveland also joined the forum at the Sunriver Library, hosted by the political organization Staying Connected-Sunriver Action Group.
Each candidate took turns addressing the crowd and answering a few questions. When they were done, the crowd was asked what does democracy look like. The crowd yelled back, “This is what democracy looks like.”
The speakers began with White, a retired Chrysler finance director from Bend who set the tone of criticism against Walden. Walden has represented Oregon’s 2nd congressional district since 1999 and won 20 counties in the district in 2016.
White specifically called the recently passed tax bill, which Walden supported, “horrendous” and considers the bill a corporate-friendly tax cut.
“My strategy is to expose him for the falsehoods that he perpetuates on this district, and he has done it for a long time,” White said. “I want to send this man into the lobbying industry where he really wants to go.”
McLeod-Skinner, a former city manager of Phoenix, Oregon, and former Santa Clara, California, City Council member who lives in Terrebonne, spoke about her time in office and how she built an ethical and fiscally responsible reputation.
Her focus is on investing in “physical infrastructure,” such as transportation and housing, and “social infrastructure,” such as health care.
“These are things that all relate to our economy, building up our economy,” she said.
Byrne, a stonemason from Parkdale in Hood River County, described himself as “a party outsider,” but said he believes that is what the majority of people want in the district, which is Oregon’s largest and the seventh largest in the nation.
“I am District 2,” Byrne said.
Crary, a retired supply chain manager from Ashland, was the Democratic nominee for Congress in 2016 and lost to Walden 72 to 28 percent. He said campaign finance reform is the main reason he is running.
Crary, who was an avid backer of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., in the 2016 presidential primaries, told the crowd Saturday he is only taking campaign funds from individuals.
“I’m not going to be representing the corporations,” Crary said. “I’m not going to be representing the special interests. I’m only going to be representing the people in Congressional District 2.”
Neahring, a physician from Bend, said her motivation for running is to combat the high cost of health care and unseat Walden, who pushes for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
Health care is not the only issue Neahring is passionate about. She also spoke Saturday about access to education and being able to earn a fair wage.
“Those things can only happen if we stop wasting all this money on health care,” she said.
Burnette, a retired merchant marine officer and executive director of the Oregon Board of Maritime Pilots from Hood River, lives two blocks from Walden. He said he once voted for Walden, but has since found himself disagreeing with Walden’s policies.
“Greg doesn’t work for us anymore,” Burnette said.
Burnette is a strong supporter of unions and said Saturday he sees a connection between unions and a healthy middle class. Someone in the crowd asked Burnette if he would demand debates with Walden.
“It will be fun,” Burnett said. “He can walk right down to my living room or I’ll walk to his.”
The lone Independent Party candidate, Roberts, is a truck driver from White City in Jackson County. He spent much of his time Saturday describing his work experience, which includes more than 20 years of trucking and as a principal investor in Element Research, a rare mineral manufacturer.
Roberts said he has also developed an expertise in foreign relations, weaponry and energy.
“I’m a worker,” he said. “I’ve worked all my life.”
Cleveland, the Libertarian Party candidate who lives in Bend, introduced himself to the crowd Saturday. He’s spent his career in financial services, working his way to being a financial adviser.
Cleveland and his wife also owned three restaurants, a flower shop, a wine wholesaler and cafe, which they all sold to support Cleveland’s run at Congress.
He is running as a Libertarian to gain attention from voters in both Democratic and Republican parties to and continue to get more support in future races. “I see it as the potential to get my name out there in front of both parties,” he said. “And in 2020, make a full go of it.”
All the candidates were impressed by the turnout of potential voters, who will make their choice at the May 15 primary election. The general election is in November.
— Reporter: 541-617-7820, firstname.lastname@example.org