Senate District 19 candidates make their case for Devlin's seat
Seven candidates vying to succeed state Sen. Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin, gathered for a public town hall Friday hosted by the local political group Independents for Progressive Action.
Devlin was appointed to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council in October for a term beginning Jan 16. He was scheduled to resign his Senate seat earlier this week, triggering a process to appoint a replacement to serve out the remainder of his term.
The meeting, held at the Robinswood Station community center in West Linn, drew an audience of more than 80 IPA members and others to hear from the six applicants who had publicly declared their interest in the seat by mid-November: environmental advocate Daphne Wysham, Tualatin City Council President Joelle Davis, Lake Oswego School Board member Rob Wagner, former state Rep. Greg MacPherson, environmental consultant Gerritt Rosenthal and Claudia Black, a former policy advisor to then-Gov. Ted Kulongoski.
They were joined by a seventh candidate: West Linn resident Tim Loun, who joined the race in late December.
The candidates will gather again on Saturday, Jan. 6, for a party convention in which the Precinct Committee Persons from Senate District 19 will gather and vote on a slate of 3-5 nominees from the pool of applicants. The convention will be held at River Grove Elementary School in Lake Oswego; it will feature a debate at 10 a.m., followed by the vote at 1 p.m.
The final appointee will be chosen from the party's slate by Washington, Multnomah and Clackamas county commissioners on Jan. 29, just one week before the start of the 2018 legislative session. That meeting will be held at 1:30 p.m. at Marylhurst University in Lake Oswego.
A united front
Last week's town hall moved at a brisk pace, with each candidate given just 75 seconds to respond to each question. Seven initial scripted questions focused on taxes, housing, health care, education, campaign finance, criminal justice reform and the environment.
All of the candidates sought to present a strong progressive face, and there was little disagreement about the problems facing Oregon and the need for legislative action. Most of the candidates instead turned to their own histories to make the case for why they would be the best appointee.
Black said she wanted to "change the culture" of the Oregon Senate and cited her work history as a police officer and later a policy advisor. She called for a large-scale overhaul of the state's tax system and the establishment of a stable source of funding for education.
Black also said she would work to improve air quality, particularly in the Portland metro area. She declared that "health care is a right" and said she would be a strong advocate for criminal justice reform.
"We're locking up people and keeping people incarcerated who have no business there," she said, "and destroying families in the process."
Davis highlighted her three consecutive terms on Tualatin's City Council, positioning herself as a strong advocate for local residents of SD19. She also discussed her daughter's struggles with addiction and homelessness, which Davis said drove her support for better access to housing opportunities and health care, including mental health care and addiction treatment. She also criticized Oregon's tax system and efforts by corporations to prevent a rise in corporate taxes.
"They want educated and healthy workers," she said, "and they can't have that if they don't pay into the system."
Loun acknowledged during his opening statement that he lacks any substantial prior political experience, but said that would allow him to have a greater commitment to the principles of public service. He put a large emphasis on the need for locating adequate financing for multiple state programs, including programs to address homelessness, and stressed the need to pass Ballot Measure 101 later this month.
"It's paid for, it's done," he said. "We just need to ratify it."
Macpherson, a Lake Oswego resident, pointed to his three terms in Oregon's House of Representatives and said his prior experience would give him the best shot at defending the SD19 seat against a Republican challenger in November. He echoed other candidates' calls for universal health care, but cautioned against moving too quickly, citing the poor rollout of Oregon's insurance exchange website. He also pointed to criminal justice reform as a high priority.
"I think we're at a critical point where we can actually move the needle on this issue," he said.
Rosenthal cited his work on the Democratic Party of Oregon's platform committee, as well as his 45-year career as an environmental consultant. He also said he supported campaign finance reform and that Oregon needs to take stops to limit out-of-state campaign contributions. He brought up his prior support of a national popular vote measure as another example of something the state could do to reform elections in general.
"It would be at least symbolically a way to start that process," he said.
Wagner emphasized his role on the Lake Oswego School Board and his background in education, and said the current political climate spurred him into public service — particularly an incident in 2016 in which racist graffiti was discovered at a Lake Oswego high school. He positioned himself as a strong advocate for education and health care, and said he would keep a focus on equity when evaluating school success.
"We need to be empowering traditionally underserved populations to come forward," he said.
Wysham recounted her history as an environmental advocate and tied some of the progressive issues under discussion back to environmental policy. She said Oregon's timber industry has been granted too many tax policy exemptions, and criticized a proposed cap-and-trade bill for what she said similarly excluded timber. She also said she would fight for housing and health care access, particularly for women.
"This is a critical issue that we need to stand up for," she said.
The scripted questions all covered fairly broad policy topics, but a few subsequent questions from the audience got into specifics, such as asking the candidates if they supported the proposed Jordan Cove Liquid Natural Gas terminal.
All seven candidates said they opposed it, although a couple offered caveats. Wagner said the residents of Coos Bay are concerned about jobs, so cancelling the LNG project would need to be accompanied by efforts to increase the availability of green jobs instead. And MacPherson said his bigger concern would be stopping shipments of coal by rail through the Columbia River Gorge.
Another audience member asked the candidates what they thought of a planned Southwest MAX line from Portland to Tigard and Bridgeport, and every candidate offered a strong endorsement.
IPA members were asked to vote for their preferred candidate after the debate, and the group announced over the weekend that it had endorsed Black and Wysham. According to IPA chair Lisa Ortiz, the two candidates were at a "virtual tie" for the most votes, so the group's steering committee opted for a dual endorsement.