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A veteran Democrat vs. a GOP newcomer for 5th Congressional District

Rep. Schrader seeks fifth term against Stayton lawyer.


Colm WillisWhen it comes to contests for the U.S. House, specifically Oregon’s 5th District that is almost evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, it appears better to be in than out.

Democratic incumbent Kurt Schrader of Canby, who is seeking his fifth two-year term, starts with advantages over Republican rival Colm Willis of Stayton. Also running is Marvin Sandnes of Salem, the Pacific Green Party nominee, who ran two years ago as Marvin Sannes, Independent Party nominee.

Schrader and Willis face off at a breakfast Sept. 19 in Clackamas.

Since he was elected in 2008 to the seat Democrat Darlene Hooley of West Linn vacated after 12 years, Schrader has won with solid majorities. His closest re-election was in 2010, when he turned back a well-funded Republican challenger by 51 percent to 46 percent.

In 2014 Schrader beat Clackamas County Commissioner Tootie Smith, the Republican nominee, by 54 percent to 39 percent. Three minor-party candidates split the rest.

But Willis said a majority of district voters favored Republican Dennis Richardson for governor two years ago, and Republicans constitute a majority of the district’s state legislators.

Willis backs most Republican Party positions and its presidential nominee, Donald Trump, although he said Trump “was not my first choice or second choice.”

“If we get this election wrong, our children are going to grow up in a place that is less free, less safe and less prosperous than the place we grew up in,” he said in an interview.

“It’s clear that our representative in Congress has left people like us behind.”

But Schrader, who endorsed Democrat Hillary Clinton for president early on, said he has demonstrated his willingness to work with members from both parties. An example, he said, was his support of 2015 legislation that resolved a two-decade-old controversy over reimbursement rates for doctors who treat patients on Medicare, the federal health insurance program for people 65 and older.

That bills and others advanced, Schrader said, when Republican John Boehner decided to seek Democratic support for them in the months before Boehner resigned as House speaker last fall.

“Congress is not as bad as the media portray it,” he said at a luncheon of the Oregon City Rotary Club. “I’m not on marijuana. When you have good leadership, a lot can get done.”

Schrader switched committee assignments in 2015 from Agriculture, which produced the 2014 legislation that reauthorized federal farm programs, to Energy and Commerce. The latter handles a wide range of bills, including the 2015 Medicare bill.

Background

The district extends from a sliver of Multnomah County into most of Clackamas County — which has the largest share of the district’s voters at 41 percent — and south through the mid-Willamette Valley and the central coast.

Based on July 31 registration figures, Democrats outnumber Republicans, 36.2 percent to 31.6 percent, the closest of Oregon’s five congressional districts.

According to the national rating services — Cook Political Report, Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call, Sabato’s Crystal Ball of the University of Virginia Center for Politics — and a recent Washington Post state-by-state roundup, Oregon’s four Democrats and one Republican are favorites to hold their House seats.

Since 1964, the national re-election rate for House incumbents has hovered around 90 percent — it was 95 percent in 2014 — although it dipped to 85 percent in 1970 and 2010.

The most recent Oregon incumbent to lose a House seat in a general election was Republican Jim Bunn, who lost the 5th to Hooley in 1996.

The finalists

Willis has had some experience in Washington and politics, even though this is his first bid for public office.

He was an analyst on the staff of the Joint Economic Committee of Congress for a year, and was the political director of Oregon Right to Life until he resigned in late 2015 to enter the race.

Willis said politics was not in his career plans until his experience as a congressional staff member during the economic downturn of 2008 and 2009.

“It was disgusting to me to watch our representatives from both parties spend billions of dollars to bail out some of the largest corporations and the most powerful lobbyists,” he said.

“That experience made me realize there is a problem.”

Willis, 30, opened a solo law practice upon earning a law degree from Willamette University in 2015. His wife is a nurse, and they have two daughters.

Willis has raised $170,000, according to a Federal Election Commission report June 30, more than the Republican nominees in 2012 and 2014 combined. (Smith raised only $65,000 in her 2014 bid.)

However, Schrader has raised $1.4 million so far during the 2015-16 election cycle, and as of June 30, he had $1.5 million on hand to Willis’ $54,981.

Willis has some billboards, but Schrader has broadcast some television ads.

Updated reports will be filed for the quarter ending Sept. 30.

Willis won a four-way race with 57.6 percent in the May 17 primary.

Schrader, who turns 65 in October, was a farmer, veterinarian and state legislator for 12 years when he was elected to Congress in 2008.

Schrader easily turned back a primary challenge by Dave McTeague of Milwaukie, a state representative between 1985 and 1995, who linked his campaign with that of Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders. McTeague accused Schrader of being insufficiently progressive, but Schrader won by almost 3 to 1.

Schrader said if he is re-elected, he still is interested in pursuing a resolution of the nation’s looming problems with Medicare and Social Security financing as the post-World War II generation retires. Government trustees reported earlier this year that the Medicare hospital fund will no longer be self-sufficient in 2018 and Social Security in 2034.

How Willis stands

Willis said he would represent no specific faction in Congress, but most of his stands mirror the Republican Party platform: Repeal of the 2010 health care overhaul known as “Obamacare,” less federal regulation of business, opposition to the agreement that slows Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

While he believes two Harney County ranchers were punished excessively by imprisonment for setting fires on their grazing land that damaged public leads, Willis said the armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge earlier this year went too far.

“We are a country of peaceful protest, free speech and the rule of law,” he said. “So I oppose people using force and circumventing our democratic process.”

Willis said if he is elected, Republicans are likely to maintain the majority they have had in the House since 2010.

“I will be in the majority party, and the majority makes the rules,” he said.

While Willis said he isn’t 100 percent for Trump, “I think we have to consider the alternative. (Hillary Clinton) will continue the past eight years of feckless foreign policy and a federal government run amok that has been taking away the freedoms of Oregonians and making life harder in this district.”

Schrader responds

But Schrader said that Trump — and Willis by association — is out of Oregon’s political mainstream.

“He is out there. He is a Trump supporter — enough said right there. That speaks volumes,” Schrader said after his Oregon City talk. “Trump is anathema to everything Oregon stands for — working together, civility, fairness, appealing to people’s better instincts.”

Although national rating services indicate no changes in Oregon, they forecast that Democrats will gain seats in the House, but short of the net of 30 Democrats need for a majority.

Schrader said that such gains are likely to be in swing districts that will replace hard-line conservative Republicans with moderate Democrats.

“Down-ballot races will be affected dramatically by his (Trump) being at the top of the ticket,” he said.

Schrader said that such hard-line Republicans, although a minority within their own party, drove Boehner from the speakership and threaten his successor Paul Ryan.

“They cannot get to yes,” he said at the Rotary luncheon. “If it’s not exactly what they want, we can’t get there. All of you know that … you never get all that you want. Life is a series of compromises.”

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