Candidates show differences, similarities at East Metro forum
District 49 foes talk about growth, transportation
When it comes to East County transportation issues, the three candidates for Oregon House District 49 may have more in common than they realized.
If a bill came to the House floor to fund light-rail and bike lanes at the expense of roads and bridges, Republican John Nelsen and Democrats Nick Kahl and Barbara Kyle would all cast the same vote. At a candidates' forum at Fairview City Hall sponsored by the East Metro Economic Alliance on Thursday, March 13, each said they would reject such a bill.
In this case, the candidates' differences were nuanced.
'I would vote against it,' said Rockwood resident Kahl, a law school student and precinct committee person and recording secretary for the Multnomah County Democratic Party. 'But the real issue is why we can't have both. We need a comprehensive transportation plan for the whole state.'
Kyle felt such a bill would be skewed toward urban areas.
'Transportation is not just about the metro area,' the Troutdale city councilor said. 'We also have rural areas with needs.'
Nelsen, chairman of Reynolds School Board, says he believes in alternative transportation, but he is more concerned with the area's economic viability.
'We need to be investing in economic development out here,' he said. '(Roads and bridges) just makes a wiser investment for the people.'
The candidates talked about their backgrounds and answered questions from East Metro Economic Alliance members during the 90-minute lunch forum. Coordinated by the Stovall Group, the event attracted a range of East County business people and city officials. The economy, strength of the business climate, crime and public safety and transportation were among the issues they discussed.
After introducing themselves, candidates received questions from the panel of about 40 attendees. The atmosphere was cordial, and candidates seemed comfortable, deferring when they lacked intimate knowledge of a topic. All three admitted needing to learn more about the Columbia Corridor River District development tract near Troutdale when a question was posed about its future.
'I was here when they started the project,' Kyle said, adding she hadn't revisited the issue. 'I've read the studies, and I understand the lay of the land.'
Nelsen said the question was valuable in providing guidance to him and his fellow candidates.
'It points to a problem,' he said after the forum. 'We need to find out more about this and get more people involved in that discussion.
'It's a big tract of land,' he added, 'a resource that needs to be developed - if we can get investors to invest in it. To make that happen, we have to inform a lot of folks' about its value.
The discussion of the Oregon Legislature meeting annually pointed up differences between Kahl and Nelsen. Kahl said he believes government - when properly engaged - can improve people's lives. Nelsen, a Republican running unopposed, tends to believe less is more.
'I'm a smaller government kinda guy,' Nelsen said, noting the recent special legislative session was 'not particularly productive.'
'I would vote 'no'' to increasing legislative sessions, he said, and praised Kahl's proposal that the Legislature meet more often for less time. 'But I would be open minded about it.'
Kahl indicated there are too many statewide problems to solve with only a biennial lawmaking session.
'When you have a million-dollar budget shortfall,' he said of the special session, 'you have to deal with it. They dealt with the shortfall and dealt with it right away. To me, that's just good business.'
Kyle said her impression was 'three weeks is not enough to accomplish what needs to be accomplished.'
Emphasizing their belief in strong home rule, the candidates vowed they would vote for the betterment of Oregon rather than micromanaging District 49 or any local jurisdiction.
'I really believe in local government,' Kahl said. 'In Salem I would work very hard to move and wrest preemption from state statutes.'
'Briefly, I believe in home rule,' added Kyle.
The East Metro Economic Alliance will host an East Metro Transportation Forum from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Fairview City Council Chambers in City Hall, 1300 N.E. Village St. Congressman Earl Blumenauer and Metro Councilors Rod Park and Rex Burkholder will discuss transportation planning and funding challenges at the forum.
For more information, contact Travis Stovall, alliance executive director by calling 971-506-1493 or President Casey Ryan at 503-867-6610.
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