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Congressional candidates talk economy at Tigard debate


With three weeks to go, the special election in Oregon's 1st Congressional District has become a hothouse, with the Oregon Democratic Party slamming GOP hopeful Rob Cornilles in a series of mailers and television ads scrutinizing the Tualatin businessman's professed history of job creation.

Now, Cornilles is hitting back. At a debate in Tigard on Tuesday, the Republican called Democratic rival Suzanne Bonamici an 'enabler' of former Congressman David Wu, who resigned last year amid a sex scandal.

'And because of that enabling we now have the worst representation of any district in the country,' Cornilles said. 'And that is that we have no representation.'

Cornilles made similar charges earlier this week at the Washington County Public Affairs Forum.

The attack stems from the legal work that Bonamici's husband, Michael Simon, did for Wu while he was in Congress. Simon resigned as Wu's lawyer in April last year, shortly before Simon's appointment to the federal bench was confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Bonamici's campaign has denied that she knew about Wu's troubles before the public did.

During the debate, Bonamici did not respond to the comments, saying that she would 'much rather prefer talking about my ideas, my positions and what I will do for you in Congress.'

The two candidates - who will go on to a televised debate on KGW later that night - did share some similar points during the debate - both approved of boosting infrastructure projects such as roadwork, and agreed that small businesses need more access to capital, but differed on their plans for the economy.

'As a small business owner I can tell you we feel hit on every side because we cannot understand this complex tax code,' Cornilles said. 'The only people who seem to be able to take advantage of it are the mega-corporations and the mega-rich and I think it's wrong.'

Bonamici, an attorney who represented the Beaverton area in the Oregon Legislature from 2006 to 2011, said that Cornilles' plan to pass comprehensive tax reform wasn't realistic for a freshman Congressman to take on.

'It's something that we need to work toward, but we have to have short term solutions and long term solutions to make sure we're helping people from day one,' Bonamici said.

Both Cornilles and Bonamici said that they would work across the aisle with the opposite party in Congress.

Cornilles, who has criticized the Republican Party on occasion, said he wants the next representative to not be beholdent to a particular party.

'I've spoken against my party when necessary,' he said.

Bonamici, who has been criticized by Cornilles for her Democratic voting record, said she has worked across the aisle with Republican state senators, and said that Congress should learn a lesson from the Oregon Legislature.

'It's time for Congress to stop playing politics and do their job,' she said.

The audience was made up primarily of business leaders from the various chambers of commerce, but also included several students from Tigard High School as part of an economics course.

'Economics are all about resources, and who your representative is a resource for you,' economics teacher Kati McKee. 'When you are talking about economics you are talking about jobs, and taxes and who gets to make decisions.'

McKee wasn't surprised by much what the candidates said, saying she felt they mostly stuck closely to their talking point, but added that many of her students will be able to vote in the special election and were paying close attention to the race.

For Dan Murphy, a member of the Tigard Area Chamber of Commerce who moderated the debate said that event helped to bring candidates' ideas to the local level.

'It was a different crowd that came here that might watch (a debate) on TV,' Murphy said. 'We were glad to take a debate like this out to the 'burbs where they will represent.

'I knew 2/3 of the audience, and they were all small business owners. Chambers are not made up of huge corporations with hundreds of employees. They are businesses like me who have nine employees.'

Ballots for the special election will be mailed to voters on Jan. 13 through 17. Completed ballots must be received at an official drop-off site in the 1st Congressional District by 8 p.m., Jan. 31.

For locations and business hours of official drop-off sites outside the 1st Congressional District, see the Oregon Secretary of State's website .

Christian Gaston, managing editor of the Forest Grove News-Times, contributed to this news story.