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Statehouse race goes to wire

Chuck Riley knew from the day he won his seat in the Oregon House in 2004 that this year's re-election bid would be tough.

That's a given in politics when you claim victory without garnering a majority of the vote.

Riley, a freshman Democrat representing District 29, finished first last fall in a three-way race that saw an anti-tax Libertarian candidate, Tom Cox, siphon enough votes away from the incumbent Republican, Mary Gallegos, to let Riley slip into Salem with 48 percent of the vote.

As a freshman Democratic in the Republican-controlled House, Riley wasn't in a position to wield much power.

He said he worked to overcome that by reaching out to freshmen Republicans, such as Sal Esquivel of Medford, figuring their alliances could help in coming years.

He also paired up with Hillsboro Republican Rep. Derrick Kitts to pass a bill preventing sex offenders from living together in group housing.

The retired business consultant, whose district stretches from Hillsboro to Forest Grove, focused much of his attention on health care, working to get breast and prostate exams covered by insurance.

He advocates requiring large employers to provide health insurance and more public disclosure of the cost of medical procedures and insurance costs to keep premiums down.

During the campaign, Riley has advocated many of the proposals backed by fellow Democrats, such as suspending corporate tax rebates to free up funds for schools, providing health care to all Oregon children and extending the state's school year.

At the same time, he has positioned himself as fiscal watchdog, urging better use of state auditors to root out waste in government, pooling the health insurance of public teachers (a move opposed by labor unions) and repealing corporate tax breaks that don't directly lead to job creation.

Riley' message may have been influenced by his opponent. When Cornelius Mayor Terry Rilling announced he was seeking the Republican nomination in the district, it was clear that much of this campaign would focus on his favorite topic: government accountability.

Rilling won the mayor's post two years ago by railing against a decision made by previous elected city officials to impose a fee on Cornelius water bills to fund general government expenses.

As mayor, he regularly sought to prioritize local government services and then pay for them with the available funds, rather than raise taxes and fees to pay for everything that the city had traditionally provided.

'The water fee was being used for things not intended,' he said, 'and the public revolted.'

Rilling, a Washington County sheriff's corporal, has hammered that same theme on the campaign trail.

At an Oct. 11 candidate's forum in Forest Grove, Rilling promised that he would not go to Salem to 'throw money at this and that.' Rather, he said, 'we need to fix the waste.'

On education funding, he said. 'Do we need more money? Yes. But we have a lot of waste and mismanagement.'

Rilling, who had never held office until two years ago, doesn't pretend to have all the answers now, but promises to get some if he's elected.

'I'm a voice of the people,' he said, 'and I will speak loud.'

The other issue Rilling has focused on is immigration, an emotional issue in Cornelius, where a gathering spot for day laborers has drawn protests from a group contending that most the men are here illegally.

'There is a lot of money going to illegal immigrants,' Rilling said at the Forest Grove forum. 'It's like the neighbors' cat. You feed it and it will keep coming back.

'Immigration is causing problems in our school system,' he continued. 'Can I tell you what the fix is? No. but I can look into it and speak up for the people.'

Riley agrees that immigration needs to be addressed, but sees it as primarily a national problem better addressed by Congress. Locally, he said, he'd work to make it easier for employers to know a worker's legal status and for law enforcement officials to deport people convicted of crimes if they are not in the country legally.

CASTING VOTES IN GLASS HOUSES

Early in the House District 29 race, Republican Terry Rilling's campaign criticized incumbent Democrat Chuck Riley for failing to take a stand on a 2004 ballot measure that would have raised taxes.

Riley's campaign shot back a two-pronged reply: First, Riley wasn't elected then and second, unlike Rilling, at least he voted in the election.

Riley's campaign found that from the mid-'90s to 2004, Rilling failed to vote in at least 13 elections.

Rilling, during his endorsement interview with the News-Times, explained that he was frustrated after several voter-approved initiatives were deemed unconstitutional in the state courts.

'I was tired of voting and having it overturned,' he said. 'And stubborn as I am, I stopped voting for several years. But I do care. I've always cared.'