Democrat faces off with Beatrice Cochran in primary

Carla Piluso, a candidate in the May 20 Democratic primary for Oregon House District 50, says education as well as crime prevention and reduction are keys to unlocking East County’s JIM CLARK - Carla Piluso

The vice-chairwoman of the Gresham-Barlow School District Board, Piluso as well as Beatrice Cochran, a medical language specialist and Army veteran, seek the Democratic nomination and an opportunity to replace Rep. Greg Matthews, who decided against running for reelection.

Matthews has endorsed Piluso.

Meanwhile, Gresham-Barlow School District Board Director Dan Chriestenson is seeking the Republican nomination for District 50 as a write-in candidate.

Should Piluso and Chriestenson win their respective primaries, the November general election will feature two candidates who serve on the same school board.

Piluso said she and Chriestenson often are on “different ends of the political spectrum,” but work well together.

“I think respectful disagreement is important to get to the right answer,” she said.

Gresham roots

Piluso, 59, grew up in Southwest Portland and has lived in Gresham for more than 30 years, raising a daughter here.

“There is very little I won’t do for East County,” she said.

Piluso retired in 2009 as Gresham’s first female police chief, having worked in law enforcement for almost 30 years.

She chairs the Multnomah County Commission on Children, Families and Community and serves as president of the board for Human Solutions, a social services agency.

She’s also served on the West Gresham Elementary School Site Council; as council president of the Gresham Salvation Army Corps; and she’s worked with Project Head Start, SnowCap Community Charities and the American Association of University Women.

If elected to the Legislature, Piluso says she wants to ensure state funding continues for the East Metro Gang Enforcement Team, which consists of officers from the Fairview, Troutdale, and Gresham police departments as well as a deputy from the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office. Piluso helped the team get $1.5 million in state funding when it formed in 2005.

“We know that gangs don’t stop at borders,” she said, adding that the team exemplifies the kind of cooperative approach to problem-solving she hopes to bring to Salem.

Speaking of crime, Piluso also said the state should re-examine Measure 11, a citizen’s initiative passed in 1994 that toughened sentences on many crimes.

“I’ve never been soft on crime because I’ve seen the worst of the worst,” she said.

But she added that first-time teenage or young adult offenders may be punished so harshly under the measure that the chance they have to reform their lives is diminished.

She would like the state to take a look at giving judges more discretion in sentencing such offenders. She also said the state needs to do more to lead young people away from crime by focusing on education and other services.

“We know that prevention is far less expensive than incarceration.”

Straight dope

Piluso expressed a similar mix of openness and caution on marijuana legalization. Oregon activists are gathering signatures on pro-pot initiatives they want on the November ballot.

Piluso said she is open to the idea of marijuana being used as medicine, but expressed concern that the drug’s potential legalization as a recreational substance may have ill effects. She expressed fears that more young people may be lured into trying harder drugs if marijuana is legalized.

“I’m not convinced that it’s not a gateway drug,” she added, although she noted taxing marijuana could increase state revenues. She urged voters to wait and see how legalization proceeds in Colorado and Washington state before legalizing pot in Oregon.

As a school board member, Piluso said she’s concerned about classroom overcrowding as well as the cuts in arts, music and other programs in schools, programs she said help keep students interested in continuing their educations.

An educated, skilled work force can attract investors to East County, she added.

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