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HD 37 candidates square off at school forum

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP PHOTO: PATRICK MALEE - From left, Ryan Haffner, Rep. Julie Parrish and Paul Southwick addressed a number of issues during a forum held at West Linn High School Oct. 4. The local mayoral race may have taken center stage at a candidate forum hosted by the West Linn High School Lobby Club Oct. 4, but candidates for Oregon House District 37 also took turns answering student and audience questions as part of the event.

The Lobby Club is run by WLHS social studies teacher Todd Jones and aims to help students learn more about government and civic participation. House District 37, which is currently represented by Republican Julie Parrish, covers West Linn and Tualatin.

The three-person race includes Parrish, Democrat Paul Southwick and Libertarian Ryan Haffner. Following three-minute opening statements, the candidates addressed issues ranging from education funding to gun control, population growth and development in the rural Stafford area.

An education gap

Fittingly, the first question posed by Lobby Club members had to do with education funding and how to address Oregon’s low graduation rate.

Southwick said that, if elected, he would hone in on third-grade reading levels.

“We have too many students falling behind that early,” Southwick said. “As they’re falling behind in third grade, it makes it that much more difficult to succeed later on. ... I would say the level of education funding is not enough, it needs to be a higher priority in our budget and we really need to focus on those two areas.”

Haffner disagreed and noted that, “I don’t think we can fix the system simply by throwing money at it.”

“The biggest thing we can do to help this is by empowering parents,” Haffner said. “(My parents) made a lot of sacrifices so that I could attend a private school for high school. I want people of all economic backgrounds to have that opportunity, and tying funding directly to the student is the way to do that. This will lead to more competition amongst schools and provide better services to students.”

Noting that current funding methods are “not adequate,” Parrish said future PERS increases and health care costs associated with the Affordable Care Act will further cripple school subsidies. She also agreed with Haffner about school choices and labeled herself as a “universal school choice supporter.”

“I think to address graduation rates, we have to start customizing education to the needs of the child,” Parrish said. “I’ve got three kids in our public schools, and to say that you put them in the same box every day and expect the same result for every child, it just doesn’t work that way.”

She added that, “Third-grade reading, we all know that that is incredibly important,” while also noting that a bill to address exactly that was blocked at the Legislature in 2011.

An exploding population

The candidates each had different approaches for how to address an Oregon population that is among the fastest growing in the nation.

“I think it starts by making sure we have enough housing stocked,” Parrish said. “That is one of the pieces that’s driving our housing crisis right now, is we have a lot of people who want to live here but our housing stock levels have not kept pace. ... People want to be able to live and work and shop and play in their communities, but right now we don’t have enough land for housing, we don’t have good transportation infrastructure and then you have to have enough industrial land for jobs.”

Southwick said he was committed to preserving the urban growth boundary, “because we don’t want to end up like Southern California.”

“I think we need a sensible land use policy that encourages developers to develop up around employment centers,” Southwick said. “That way people are closer to their jobs and it also incorporates a transportation system that can get people there back and forth efficiently. If we build up near employment centers, that will help us absorb the population growth without continuing urban sprawl or exacerbating the traffic situation.”

For Haffner, the solution was simple: less government regulation.

“What we need to do is reduce government regulation on land use, so that way we can actually build the housing that we need to accommodate all of these people who want to come and live in our great state,” Haffner said.

Stafford development

The candidates had different views on development in the rural Stafford area. They were also asked to address what is known as the “Stafford Compromise,” which was approved by vote within the Stafford Hamlet and calls for the area around Borland Road to be developed as urban reserve, with the rest of Stafford in the area north of the Tualatin River falling under the “undesignated” category.

“It’s not an easy conversation,” Parrish said. “You’ve got landowners who want to build it out and you’ve got people who want to preserve it as it is, and somewhere there has to be a compromise. ... But the other thing is, who is going to take over the infrastructure costs? And it’s not going to be necessarily just the City of West Linn by itself or the City of Tualatin or Lake Oswego.”

Southwick said he was opposed to “significant” development in the area.

“We don’t need another 20,000 people,” Southwick said. “We don’t need another West Linn or another Tualatin built there right now. We can’t handle it. ... Before we talk about developing Stafford in a significant way, we need to get the infrastructure in place.”

Haffner, on the other hand, said he supported further development.

“Developing that area gives people more places to go and I really would emphasize that we need to continue to push for growth,” Haffner said.

Patrick Malee can be reached at 503-636-1281 Ext. 106 or pmalee@westlinntidings.com.