DALLAS -- Voters in Oregon House District 23 will have a choice among three divergent political philosophies on Election Day.
The district encompasses parts of Polk, Yamhill, Marion and Benton counties.
Incumbent Jim Thompson
(R-Dallas) is facing two challengers: Salem resident and Democrat Ross Swartzendruber and Green Party candidate and Corvallis resident Alex Polikoff.
Thompson, who has held the seat since elected to the position in 2008, said there are several critical issues he would like to see through, including health care, education and energy.
"There are a lot of things that are going to really dramatically change Oregon if they go one way versus the other," he said.
Polikoff said he chose to run to advocate for the average citizen, who he believes isn't well represented in state government.
"I would like to be a voice for those who don't have lobbyists, PACs or corporate money,"
Swartzendruber, who owns Black Sheep Advertising Inc. and heads nonprofit Solarize Salem, said he would be a progressive, yet practical representative.
"The district constituents need a choice," he said. "They really haven't been offered a choice in the past few years."
Neither Swartzendruber nor Polikoff have held elected office, yet both say they have the experience and passion to do the job.
Polikoff said he is a concerned and well-informed citizen and, with a background in engineering and energy, is knowledgeable in those areas.
Swartzendruber has worked closely with legislators with
Solarize Salem. The organization, which educates homeowners about installing solar panels, has been confronted with regulatory roadblocks.
"That's what really introduced me to policy at the state level," he said. "I looked at the policy and saw where there were some barriers that if they were removed, we could be creating a lot more jobs in renewable energy."
Thompson said health care is a pressing priority. He said the state needs to find a way to cut the costs, without reducing provider payments, which he said is relied upon too much.
"No one doubts the fact that we have to reduce the cost of health care," he said. "The rate at which health care costs are increasing is unsustainable."
Polikoff said he would like to go in a different direction: he is a proponent of a single-payer health care system.
"I think health care is a human right and not a privilege like it is now," he said. "We should have a universal system providing decent health care to all citizens."
Swartzendruber said more transparency is needed in the health care reform process.
He also feels strongly that education reform should focus more on reducing class sizes and not creating more paperwork for educators.
Polikoff said his answer to shrinking class size also would reduce the population in another state institution: prisons.
He said the state would be better off not jailing nonviolent drug offenders and funneling the savings to schools.
"It is unconscionable that we have to have huge class sizes and teachers taking furlough days, while at the same time putting (nonviolent offenders) in prison," he said.
Swartzendruber said while the aforementioned issues are critical, revenue generation should be the legislature's top priority.
"Anything that is taking away from that (revenue) should be scrutinized," he said.
One important way of generating revenue is bulking up the job market.
Swartzendruber believes jobs could be found in the alternative energy field. He believes entire communities could power themselves on alternative energy, including methane and wood chips, but he fears urban legislators will block efforts out of what he thinks are unreasonable environmental concerns.
"There is just such a disconnect (between) what they are trying to do and reality," he said. "We could add a lot of jobs to the economy if we were allowed to."
Polikoff is in agreement, saying Oregon has a unique opportunity to invest in green jobs, citing wave energy as one example. He added another revenue focus should be in tax reform, including abolishing the state's kicker refund and raising the corporate tax rate.
Thompson said job creation will be a multifaceted challenge involving creating practical, but effective environmental regulations, and improving transportation systems and land-use statutes.
"It's an incremental problem," he said. "We incrementally got into this position where we moved the economy in a direction where it ended up drying up."
He said it isn't likely the region's resource-based economies -- mainly timber -- will return to the production of decades past. However, he believes applying common-sense to regulations could balance environmental protection with the need for jobs.
"The regulations that were put in place may have been good for a period of time, but maybe they are not so good anymore," he said. "We need to go back and re-evaluate them in light of where we want to go."
STATE HOUSE, DISTRICT 23
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