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Hot topics steam up lukewarm 5th Congressional District race

Schrader, Smith pick apart each other's records

Photo Credit: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Clackamas County Commissioner Tootie Smith reacts to Congressman Kurt Schrader's answer on why their campaigns for Congressional District 5 have been funded at a 28-to-1 ratio in his favor. 'Well, I think people like me better,' the Democratic candidate said simply, eliciting laughter from the attendees of North Clackamas County Chamber of Commerce's Eggs N Issues candidate debate at The Aerie at Eagle Landing in Happy Valley.The Republican and Democratic nominees for 5th Congressional District took turns blasting each other on topics ranging from the Ebola virus and the Islamic State in Iraq to more local concerns of education, jobs and health care costs during a rare debate Thursday, Oct. 16.

Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Oregon) was back to ask for a fourth term in the U.S. Congress while challenger and Clackamas County Commissioner Tootie Smith argued that it was time for a change.

“We don’t have a congressman back there willing to challenge the status quo,” Smith said, arguing for loosening federal restrictions on natural resources and boosting funding for education.

Schrader defended his record as bipartisan and noted the creation in July of a new Problem Solvers caucus that he will co-chair with Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wisconsin). He contrasted that with Smith’s reputation as a Tea Partier who forced County Administrator Steve Wheeler and Public and Government Affairs lobbyist Jared Anderson to resign.

“The problem with Clackamas County is sitting right here next to me,” Schrader said, criticizing Smith for her Aug. 19 request for reimbursement of $15,107 in legal expenses related to the Anderson discrimination complaint.

Schrader’s ex-wife, Martha Schrader, also sits on the Board of County Commissioners and reluctantly voted with the majority to approve $5,000 in reimbursement for both Smith and Commissioner John Ludlow.

“I mean, why would I invest in Clackamas County if I’m a businessperson?” said Schrader, a former Canby-area veterinarian. “Watch the meetings. It’s an embarrassment, folks. It’s an embarrassment.”

Smith said she was elected to shake up the county and that’s just what she did.

“If you want to change the status quo, gee, doesn’t that come with a little growing pains?” Smith said. “I wasn’t elected to Clackamas County to go in and rubber stamp failed past policies.”

Health care and jobs were repeated themes, with each congressional candidate attempting to drum up support for his or her approach.

Schrader said his vote for the Affordable Care Act has helped level health care costs and ensure better outcomes. “It’s actually a deficit-reducer, no matter what the right-wing blogosphere will tell you,” Schrader said, citing statistics that the nation will save a trillion dollars in health care costs in 20 years.

Smith said she sees a lack of innovation in Washington, D.C., and criticized Schrader for his work in the Committee on Agriculture. She said a visit to Fishpeople in Toledo showed her a new way of cutting fish with lasers and packaging without freezing or canning.

“That’s the kind of thing we need to be forward-thinking on, not just reauthorizing a farm bill that increases food stamps and the welfare system in America.”

The candidates agreed that education funding needed to be increased across the board and that higher education costs were out-of-control.

“It’s unconscionable these days the amount of debt that our young people graduate with,” Schrader said. “It’s just unbelievable.”

The Molalla family farmer and business owner said her only child recently graduated, but she doesn’t see the same opportunities that she had at her age. “She’s working in her field as an accountant, but guess what? She’s still living at home trying to save money so she can be independent,” Smith said. “That is not prosperity.”

Schrader, who has four children, also noted that the federal government needs to make good on its promise for special-education funding.

“If we ... stop spending a lot of money in all these wars overseas, brought the money home, and put it into special education, that would free up all the local state dollars to help our kids in the K-12 system.”

The candidates also agreed that countries in the Middle East need to take the lead on challenging militant groups like the Islamic State.

“We’ve spent a lot of blood, sweat and tears — as well as taxpayer money — overseas trying to help people determine their own destiny,” Schrader said. “What I’ve learned in my own life and even in Washington, D.C., is you can only help people who want to help themselves.”

Smith criticized President Barack Obama for not keeping troops in Iraq longer but declined to offer any specific plan.

“I will never pretend to be a foreign affairs expert because, frankly, I haven’t had the internal briefings to answer this question intelligently,” she said.

Smith did call out the Centers for Disease Control for their handling of the Ebola outbreak and called for an air travel ban from affected areas.

“We have an overall failure, a lack of leadership at the top,” she said.

Follow the money

Oregon’s 5th Congressional District is shaped like a hammer, covering the area just south of Portland from the Cascade Mountains out to the coast across seven counties.

The 422,000 registered voters are split into nearly even thirds between Republican and Democratic and third-party or nonaffiliated voters.

One would think this would make for a hotly contested race, but local and national Republican forces seem to have little interest in backing Commissioner Tootie Smith.

Rep. Kurt Schrader has raised nearly $1.5 million and spent around $1.2 million in the race, according to filings with the Federal Elections Commission.

Meanwhile, at press time, Smith had raised just $53,768 and spent $47,663.

The county commissioner agreed that funding had been difficult.

“I’ve pleaded with Greg Walden (Oregon’s only Republican member of Congress) to come help with this race,” Smith said. “He’s off doing other things.”

She added that she has been hampered by federal elections law that prohibits donations greater than $2,000.

“So what I’ve done with this campaign is I’ve taken it to the grassroots, and I’ve been everywhere that I can be,” Smith said.

Wilsonville resident Ben Pollock was Smith’s opponent in the primary election and said he saw a lack of a serious candidate who was willing to knock on doors and appeal to donors. Pollock raised $63,460 to earn 36.6 percent of the vote in May.

“The fact that the Republican Party has failed to compete in the state’s only swing district needs to be our final wake-up call that there is a massive divide between our GOP candidates and the 21st-century Oregon electorate,” said Pollock, 29, in an email.

By Shasta Kearns Moore
email: shasta@portlandtribune.com
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