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Races for state lawmakers heat up in Clackamas County

House seat in OC, Gladstone; Senate district also covers Estacada, Canby and Molalla -

How is Cover Oregon like the light-rail project being built between Portland and Oak Grove?

It’s a fair comparison according to State Sen. Alan Olsen (R-Canby), who is facing a challenge for his seat from former Clackamas County commissioner Jamie Damon (D-Eagle Creek). Last week Olsen accused Damon of not listening to the will of her constituents by voting for a $20 million payment to TriMet while she was on the commission in 2012.

On the light-rail issue, Damon responded during a Thursday evening candidate forum in Oregon City that she wanted to uphold the agreement that the previous commission had made in 2010, before she was appointed in 2011. TriMet won its lawsuit to end Clackamas County’s delays of light-rail construction through Milwaukie when a judge ruled last year that the current county commissioners who unseated Damon breached contractual commitments to the project.

“We would have been sued to pay it all anyway, so I’m proud of the work that we did,” she said.

Olsen then issued a statement Monday calling for a special legislative session to dissolve Cover Oregon, just as Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek (D-Portland) also called for the troubled health insurance exchange to transition remaining functions to state agencies with full public accountability and pushed for an additional commitment to assisting Oregonians affected financially by Cover Oregon’s errors. 

"It is time to stop throwing good money after bad in the failed Cover Oregon experiment,” Olsen said. “It has cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and failed to give working families easy access to affordable healthcare."

While she will be also be demanding “accountability” on Cover Oregon, Damon said that Oregon lawmakers need to be focusing on attracting small businesses and supporting existing businesses. She said it’s “very important” for a state senator to be in the community, and lamented that she has seen little of Olsen during his time in office. She said she’s been developing “strong relationships with Eastern Oregon legislators who are very conservative,” which she hopes will put her in a good position to work across the aisle.

“There are so many ways we can do better,” she said.

She asked Olsen, famous for making a floor speech each Tuesday on jobs, what he’s actually been able to accomplish in that arena. Olsen authored several bills to “keep money in the pockets of small business owners,” but he said these bills couldn’t get out of the committees controlled by Democrats. (One example was SB 1530 which would have allowed for “optional reduced rates of personal income tax” for incomes between $250,000 and $5 million for people owning a limited liability company or “any other pass-through entity.”) In successful bills, he “protected Redland” from the threat of a composting plant proposed for the rural community, and defended a Marine in Gladstone whose animal would have been put to death by helping revise a law against exotic cats as pets.

Barton/Newgard rematch

Another local surprise in state politics came from State Rep. Brent Barton (D-Oregon City) in announcing that building a public access path to Willamette Falls would be his top local priority, although school funding would remain his top statewide priority as it had been when he won his seat in 2012. While he does not see their funding as a “either-or,” Barton is facing a rematch from his 2012 challenger Steve Newgard (R-Unincorporated Clackamas) whom he narrowly defeated.

“My No. 1 priority will be guiding the construction of that Riverwalk,” Barton said, amplifying a concern of Metro, Oregon City and Clackamas County officials to build on the site of the former Blue Heron paper-mill site.

“Why don’t we have the best climate for jobs and productivity?” Newgard asked after hearing Barton’s priorities. “I don’t want to see my grandson leave because he can’t get a job here.”

After the Riverwalk boosting Main Street and regional tourism, Barton sees stable school funding as the next most important factor in keeping Oregon economically competitive.

“You can get by, but you can’t quite get ahead,” Barton told the Sept. 4 crowd invited to the local VFW hall by the Oregon City Chamber of Commerce, citing a study showing lagging growth in Clackamas County compared to Oregon’s modest economic recovery overall.

Newgard was quick to seize on Barton’s biggest regret of his past term in office: Barton said that while he was so focused on the K-12 budget and two investments in the Clackamas Community College capital budget (effective if CCC-area voters approve the $90 million bond this November), he couldn’t be as promotional in bolstering community colleges’ general funds.

“I wish I could have gotten a little more relief for the students in terms of the tuitions they’re paying,” Barton said.

Responding to a Newgard accusation of partisanship, Barton said he showed his ability to think for himself by bucking his caucus about 80 times, and the second-place legislator only went against Democrats in 50 votes.

Toward the end of the candidate forum, Barton said he has an “open mind to raising the minimum wage,” but he can’t say yes without seeing the specifics, while Newgard “would be a little reluctant to go with that at this point.”


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