It's a long way from Umatilla County to Wall Street, but the economic woes facing America threaded their way into a local forum involving candidates for state representative and county commissioner.
Incumbent Republican Bob Jenson and Democratic challenger Ben Talley, candidates for District 58 state representative, and incumbent Dennis Doherty and challenger Glenn Youngman, candidates for Umatilla County commissioner, sprinkled their answers and campaign statements with frequent references to the nation's economic crisis.
Doherty perhaps summed up the issue most succinctly when he said it isn't a problem at just one level. "It is federal, state, and county combined," Doherty said.
The four men participated in the American Association of University Women Candidate Forum at the Little Vert Auditorium in Pendleton. They answered questions from East Oregonian reporters Kathy Aney, Samantha Bates and Phil Wright. Elizabeth Scheeler of the AAUW served as moderator.
While many people were at home watching the presidential debate, a crowd of 50 or so citizens turned out to view politics at the local level. Scheeler said she was delighted with the crowd considering the conflict.
Jenson vs. Talley
Talley was the first candidate to take the podium and he opened his remarks by dispelling the idea of his Republican opponent working across the aisle. Talley said it was time to stop pandering to the rich and powerful and start focusing on working and middle class families.
Talley also told the attendees he has always had the courage to challenge the system and then cited a series of unpopular situations where he has taken a stand.
Talley demonstrated strong feelings against the war in Iraq and said he was concerned about yet another deployment of the Oregon National Guard.
Jenson, the longest serving Republican in the Legislature, began by telling the crowd he has always had a passion to help people. He said his service in the Legislature is an extension of his career as an educator.
The veteran representative said he was focused on education spending, the needs of senior citizens, agriculture, water and natural resources.
Responding to a question about offering solutions, Talley said the next major challenge of government is Oregon's infrastructure. He favors increasing taxes on corporations. He said as the need for services increase and resources diminish, Oregonians will again be called upon to make sacrifices.
Jenson spoke vehemently about the raises just granted to Oregon's department heads and key administrators calling them an "insult to the people of Oregon."
On the subject of merit pay for teachers and limiting second language offerings for students, Jenson said he was opposed to both measures. Talley agreed.
Asked about the measures related to stiffer penalties for criminals, Talley noted Oregon already incarcerates a high percentage of its citizens and that is not the answer. Jenson said while the concept sounds good, the high cost of more prisoners would come directly from health services and education.
On the idea of selling water to California, an idea Republican state Sen. David Nelson put forth, Jenson was reluctant to respond but criticized Oregon's lack of financial support for water issues. Talley said he believed Nelson's proposal sheds light on the subject but doubted it will get traction. He joined Jenson in speaking about the need for more commitment to supporting water measures.
Doherty vs. Youngman
County commissioner Doherty, who has served for almost 12 years, listed six major issues he said are fundamental to his platform - water, energy, economic development, public safety, accessibility and teamwork.
He also focused on his commitment to form coalitions to solve key problems such as water.
Youngman, like Doherty, has about the same experience as a county commissioner although, as he noted, he stepped down about 11 years ago.
His major purpose in filing for office, he said, was his concern about the construction of the Stafford Hansell Government Center. He said the funds that support the center take away from other basic county services.
In a later question, when asked if the center had been beneficial, Youngman said he had never been opposed to having the center, just the idea of using general funds to build it.
Doherty responded the county was out of space and decided to put a center in a growing part of the county rather than just renting space. He also pointed out Youngman had been on the committee to study county facilities.
Doherty denied the center is sapping county funds. Rather, he said, there are other streams of support, including the fact the county no longer has to rent space elsewhere.
Youngman was strong in his belief the county needs to move away from its commissioner form of government in favor of a county manager with a five-member board of part-time commissioners. He said the county now spends $250,000 on the current system. He didn't specify how much his proposal would save the county.
Doherty expressed a concern that a manager system would vest too much power in one person rather than three commissioners who are directly accountable to the voters.
Asked about the relationship between the commissioners and the sheriff, Doherty says he believed it has thawed and they are now working effectively together. He also defended the need for the commissioners to create spending procedures in line with audit guidelines.
Youngman defended the right of the sheriff to purchase three vehicles without going to the commissioners for approval.
On the subject of wind power and potential impact on the view of the landscape, both individuals said wind energy is welcome in Umatilla County.