Oregon’s economy took center stage in a political debate between two Silverton residents vying to represent District 18 for the Oregon House of Representatives. The debate was organized as part of Homer Davenport Days in Silverton.
Before a crowd of roughly 100 festival-goers, Republican incumbent Vic Gilliam and Democratic challenger Dr. Rodney Orr squared off Aug. 7 on a makeshift stage at Coolidge & McClaine Park.
Answering questions submitted in advance by the audience, they held court in an event notable for its lack of political partisan rancor.
Receiving roughly equal amounts of polite applause, both politicians largely sidestepped traditionally partisan issues such as abortion, gun rights and immigration to tackle what appears to be the overriding concern of voters heading into the fall election season: the state’s economic troubles.
Discussing the recession, Representative Gilliam denounced the Democratic majorities in both the state house and senate chambers for being unwilling to listen to ideas from across the aisle.
Gilliam attacked recent tax changes such as Measure 67, the tax on businesses making more than $250,000 annually, stating such policies impacted building contractors and small businesses, the engines of economic recovery.
“Roll back 67, get out of the way and let businesses do their thing,” he said.
Orr sought to emphasize his business credentials as owner of private medical practices in Silverton and Molalla. He declared that banks’ willingness to loan money was a larger concern than any tax policy from Salem.
“I am a small business owner,” Orr said. “Operating capital is the issue.”
Regarding the state’s budget shortfall, Orr advocated loosening burdensome restrictions and overreaching mandates on department managers, which often prevent them from running their departments more independently and efficiently. He also cautioned against excessive cutting of state payrolls, saying that doing so would only add to the state’s unemployment.
“We don’t want to abandon all the people” who serve the state, he said.
Information from the district’s
official legislative website can
be found at www.leg.state.or.us
For campaign information, visit:
Vic Gilliam (R)
Rodney Orr (D)
Gilliam, a representative since 2007, advocated asking tough questions to every department.
“Current members of the House and Senate know the issues,” he said.
He said he would confront each state agency and department with the same questions – What’s your budget, how many consultants did you hire, how many vendors do you have from outside the state, how many middle managers do you have and how much do they contribute to the core mission of your department?
Despite the state’s budget woes and issues with funding for the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS), both candidates avoided portraying state employees as scapegoats.
“Public employees are a valuable asset,” Gilliam said. “They deserve a place at the table, but they don’t deserve to run the table.”
And although both candidates focused on the economy, hot-button topics did arise, such as gay marriage.
Gilliam simply stated his voting record of opposition in the House; Orr had an even simpler response.
“Maybe a government that gets in the way of relationships is too big,” Orr said.
Both candidates seemed comfortable with the format of the debate, in which neither candidate was able to prepare for specific questions beforehand. Orr, in his campaign T-shirt, blue jeans and boots, emphasized his 30 years in the community and his familiarity with its people. “I have a keen connection with you,” Orr said.
Gilliam, in light-blue dress shirt and Dockers-style pants, expressed his passion for helping District 18 constituents. “If you send me back, it would be my honor to serve,” Gilliam said.
Dick Hughes, editorial page editor of The Statesman-Journal and moderator of the debate, ended with an observation.
“Look around, this is democracy in action,” he said.
The debate was a new feature for Homer Davenport Days, but it tapped into the true spirit of the festival, said Sheldon Traver, media spokesman for the festival and debate organizer. Past festivals had debates, he said. Also, Homer Davenport himself valued open, transparent government, he said.
“It was a natural fit for Homer Davenport Days,” he said.
Traver said the format in which candidates were asked to speak without microphones was deliberately set to force candidates to approach the audience. Audience members were asked to refrain from heckling or raucous behavior. Traver hopes to have more debates in the future.
“I didn’t quite know what to expect,” he said. “I was very pleased, I was very impressed.”