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Candidates hope to boost school budgets, cut partisan bickering

Candidates for Washington County's House District 34 are hoping to spend less time in Salem bickering and more time solving real problems, like how to improve public school funding.

Republican Joan Draper, Democrat Suzanne Bonamici and Libertarian Gregory Rohde all hope to bring a bipartisan approach when the Legislature convenes Jan. 8.

'I believe we have to compromise,' said Draper, a 69-year-old Republican who is a retired Bank of America executive who stresses her business experience. 'I like people. I don't believe that everyone is partisan.'

Bonamici, a 52-year-old consumer protection lawyer, said she hoped to work across the aisle to promote her top two issues: public education and providing health care to the thousands of uninsured Oregonians.

'I really believe that communication is the key,' Bonamici said.

Rohde, 49, is a mask designer at Lattice Semiconductor Corp. in Hillsboro.

Draper, Bonamici and Rohde are running for one of five open seats in Washington County. State Rep. Brad Avakian, a Beaverton Democrat, has held the House District 34 seat for two terms. He decided to run for the Senate District 17 post being vacated by Sen. Charlie Ringo, leaving the House seat without an incumbent.

House District 34 stretches north of the Tualatin Valley Highway from the Multnomah County border west to Southwest 185th Avenue.

The race has attracted a lot of money, with Draper and Bonamici raising a total of about $150,000. Rohde isn't running an aggressive campaign, so he hasn't raised much money.

Draper has raised nearly $100,000. Among her contributors was a $25,000 donation from Oregon Victory political action committee in Eugene, which supports mostly Republican candidates.

Bonamici has raised about $50,000. Her contributors include a $3,000 donation from the Oregon Council 75 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union.

Schools top priorities

All three candidates said they decided to seek public office as an extension of their volunteer service.

Bonamici has worked for years in Beaverton schools, heading a committee to raise $30,000 for Ridgewood Elementary School, as vice chairwoman of the Beaverton Education Foundation and campaigning to pass bonds and a local option levy through Citizens for Beaverton Schools.

Draper has been a volunteer mentor for students in Beaverton and Portland schools. She also is a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution and the area's Argentine tango community.

'I wanted to be a dancer as a young girl, but my family thought differently,' Draper said. 'I became a banker instead.'

She has managed banks for Bank of America and Bank of Hawaii.

Rohde also has worked on the Elmonica Elementary School's local school committee and is a member of the Go Biodiesel cooperative in Portland.

'My passion is public education,' Bonamici said. 'When I'm out knocking on doors that is the issue I hear the most about.'

Improving public education is a top priority for each of the three candidates.

Bonamici said she would work to boost the state education budget (about 50 percent of Oregon's general fund) to reduce class sizes and provide enough room so students wouldn't have to be 'squished in like sardines.'

She supports public-private efforts to increase school funding, provide a stable source of money for schools and establish accountability standards so people can see how their tax dollars are being spent.

'We need to have a strong public education system to be competitive in the world market,' she said.

Draper supports an initiative that would require the state to put at least 65 cents of every tax dollar that goes to schools into the classrooms. The plan, which was announced by Republican candidates this summer, needs several thousand signatures before it can get on a ballot.

'How to fund schools is the difficult question,' Draper said.

'A good education helps the community overall.'

Rohde also supports stable school funding, which could mean separating the kindergarten-through-12th grade budget from the rest of the state general fund.

'There's probably not a solution that is going to make everyone happy,' he said.