Hooley battles Erickson in the 5th District
Oregon's 5th Congressional District forms an irregular crescent, sweeping down from the summit of Mt. Hood and out across the southern portion of Clackamas County, then west to Salem and out to the coast, where it stretches as far north as Manzanita. Now in her fifth term representing the district, Democratic incumbent Darlene Hooley will face off Nov. 7 against Republican Mike Erickson, president and CEO of a fast-growing logistics management company.
Darlene Hooley has represented Oregon's 5th district for 10 years, having first been elected to Congress in 1996. She graduated from Oregon State University in 1961 and worked as a school teacher until 1975.
A long-time resident of West Linn, she served on the city council from 1976 to 1980, and in the Oregon statehouse from 1980 to 1986. In 1986, she was elected to the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners. She represented Oregon as a delegate to the 2000 Democratic National Convention.
Asked about her key accomplishments as a member of Congress, she spoke first about her ongoing efforts to provide better equipment for the armed forces fighting in Iraq.
'I voted against the war, but as long as we have a single soldier over there, I'm going to make sure they have the best possible equipment,' she said. 'I've fought for rifles that work, vehicles that are armored and body armor for our troops.'
In September, Hooley introduced a bill that would require the Defense Department to upgrade the protective padding worn inside soldier's helmets, to help prevent deaths and brain injuries among the troops.
'We're either going to pass the bill, or embarrass the Pentagon into changing the standard themselves,' she said.
She also cited her work against methamphetamines as an important achievement during her fifth term in office.
'Oregon has a lot of meth users, and we were able to pass major legislation on that front,' she said.
The new law requires other states to take cold remedies containing pseudoephedrine, a precursor ingredient used to make meth, and store them behind the pharmacy counter. Oregon put such a law into effect last year.
'That's something I was working on for a long time,' said Hooley. 'I'm very proud of what Oregon did, but it was something we needed to do nationwide.'
Hooley's legislation also established a program to track worldwide production of pseudoephedrine and instructed U.S. narcotics agents to work with their colleagues in other countries to crack down on meth production.
'What we discovered was that Mexico was importing way more pseudoephedrine than they would ever need, even if everybody in the whole country caught a cold ten times a year,' she said. 'Since we put this bill through, Mexico has been very cooperative with us.'
She has also continued to press for additional legislation to protect citizens from identity theft.
'Everything I do has a human face on it,' she said. 'In the case of identity theft, I met one young man who came to me and told me that 12 different people were using his identity. Because of all the damage they had done, he couldn't get a job, he couldn't get an apartment or college loans. It took him three years to get everything cleared up.'
Looking ahead, Hooley believes that the war in Iraq will be a key issue that will confront the next session of Congress. Again, she noted her initial opposition to the war and continuing support for the troops, then explained her own position.
'I wrote a letter to the president last December, when Iraq was setting up its new government,' she recalled. 'I told him that the Iraqis need to be responsible for their own security, and that he needed to let them know that we weren't going to be there forever, to try to start getting rid of the anti-American sentiment over there.
'When we went in, the infrastructure of that country was horrible - now it's worse. We've created more terrorists than we've killed. We need to find a way to help that country achieve some type of stability and bring our troops home as quickly as possible.'
She speculated that the country may end up being divided among the three main ethnic groups: the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds.
'They are already in a civil war,' she said. 'The only question is: how big is it going to be?'
On the topic of immigration, Hooley advocated comprehensive reform. She voted with the majority to build a 700-mile fence along the border with Mexico, but said that would not be enough to prevent illegal aliens from entering the country.
'If you take a look at all of them that are in the country right now, about half came here legally, then overstayed their visas - they became illegal because they didn't leave,' she said. 'A fence isn't going to stop that type of illegal immigration. We really need to get a handle on the whole system.'
As President and CEO of AFMS Logistics Management Group, Mike Erickson's profession is efficiency.
'We help companies look at what they are doing and how to do it more efficiently,' he said. 'We show companies how to spend their money more wisely - that's part of the reason I want to run for Congress. Our representatives are supposed to spend the taxpayer's money as efficiently as possible. I'd like to get back there and make government more effective and accountable.
'Can you imagine if we could save one or two or even three percent in the federal budget, and put that money towards education or healthcare, what that would do for our state?'
Erickson lists many large, well-known corporations among his clients, including Domino's Pizza, American Honda Motor Company and Tupperware.
'The hire me to make them more efficient - we save our customers an average of 22 percent. I want to take that mindset to Congress and make the government more efficient.'
In addition to his focus on efficiency, Erickson has staked out positions on the political issues of the day, including terrorism and the war in Iraq.
'Whether you agree or disagree with how the war began, the fact is that we're there now,' he said. 'We need to protect our troops, and we need to see progress over there. The war is funded by a vote of congress, and that's not going to continue indefinitely unless we see some progress.'
Asked to define progress in the increasingly unpopular war, Erickson said, 'Progress will be when our troops are back in their bunkers in the Green Zone, not going out on patrol themselves. This will be achieved by training the Iraqi Police so that they can go after the terrorists on their own.
'When our troops aren't actually functioning as the police themselves, then they can come home.'
Key among Erickson's domestic concerns is healthcare.
'Healthcare is such a big issue,' he said. 'We have 620,000 people in this state without health insurance, and a lot of them work for small businesses. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy, but often they can't afford to pay for their employee's healthcare.
'Every year, I struggle with rising health care costs.'
To bring down those costs, Erickson's suggests a multi-pronged approach, starting with tax incentives to encourage more employers to provide health coverage to their workers.
'Right now, these people go to the emergency room, because they can't be turned away, and we all pay for it,' he said. 'It would be less expensive to have them going to a primary care provider or an urgent care facility, and that would be a benefit to everybody.'
Erickson would also require hospitals that receive federal dollars to put a list of procedures online, along with their prices.
'We should require an electronic healthcare marketplace, almost like Travelocity,' he said. 'In shipping, everything is available on line. Why don't we do the exact same thing in health care - instead of finding out three weeks later that a simple procedure cost $15,000.
'I think we can use computers and information to drive down healthcare costs.'
Finally, he suggested that companies in similar fields, like construction and accounting, be allowed to form insurance buying pools across state lines, in order to increase their bargaining power with insurance companies - again, to reduce prices.
On the topic of immigration, Erickson approved of the construction of a fence along the border with Mexico, authorized by Congress in September.
'I think they should have put the fence up 10 years ago,' he said. 'Congress hasn't done a lot about this problem. We need to secure the boarders and expand existing guest worker programs.'
According to Erickson, farmers throughout the region who are having trouble finding immigrant labor to tend their fields face a shortage not because of increased enforcement, but because immigrants are taking higher paid jobs in other fields, such as construction.
'I think a lot of them are doing other jobs - they are taking jobs that Americans are interested in doing,' he said. 'With a guest worker program, these immigrants would do the jobs that they came here to do, and farmers would have access to online verification of their status.'
Addressing the topic of politics in general, Erickson said: 'What's wrong with Congress is that there is too much partisanship, too much bickering and too many scandals, on both sides.
'I want to go back there and find solutions - it's about making peoples' lives better and spending their tax dollars more efficiently.'