Vial holds town hall before Nov. election
Oregon State Rep. Rich Vial held a town hall at the King City Civic Center Clubhouse the evening of Aug. 15.
Vial is a Republican who represents Oregon's House District 26, which includes King City, Sherwood and Tigard's River Terrace area. Over the course of two hours, he covered the topics of health care, education, transportation and housing, and took questions from his constituents.
Though he is facing Democratic opponent Courtney Neron, a teacher, in the November election, Vial said he intended the event to be more of an informational session than a campaign event. However, that did not prevent things from getting heated during the question and answer session.
Vial started the town hall with an hour-long slideshow and prepared remarks. He dedicated the most time to housing, saying the Portland Metro area already has surpassed population growth projects for 2018.
"Over the last 30 years, Metro has consistently underestimated the amount of our growth," Vial said, referring to the regional government with oversight over such issues as density, solid waste and The Oregon Zoo.
"We can make a policy decision to just shut down growth but … shutting down growth means shutting down economic activity," Vial said. "It means shutting down the community vitality."
Vial said he supported Oregon Ballot Measure 102, which would allow municipal bond revenue to fund private/public affordable housing projects. He also supports the cities of King City, Beaverton, Wilsonville and Hillsboro in seeking to expand the Urban Growth Boundary — the invisible barrier around Portland's suburbs, beyond which urban development is not allowed. That's a decision Metro will make later this year.
But even if Measure 102 passes and all four growth requests are granted, he said, the area would still sorely need more housing — at least 200,000 more units.
Metro currently has a $652.8 million bond measure on the ballot to build affordable housing. Vial said he's skeptical of whether that will help in the long run, and does not support the measure.
"Even with the UGB expansion and this bond combined, we are not going to solve the problem," he said. "I'm a bit discouraged, because I was very, very hopeful that a housing bond would help us with our housing and affordability questions, and I am no longer confident that this is the right approach."
Vial said that while measures like rent control could work to ease the problem in the short-term, he wasn't convinced they are a long-term solution. He cited Randal O'Toole, of the conservative think tank the Cato Institute, and argued that allowing more development in the area would help supply catch up to demand.
"In places where we actually allowed the market to expand, our resource cost has gone down, including our cost of food, housing, fuel, just about anything you can name," he said.
Vial is a key supporter of building a North-South connector road in the county, known as the Westside Bypass. That plan currently is going through the county Planning Commission, of which Vial is the chairman.
Vial said that the plan would need to include improvements to existing roads, and the addition of smaller, supporting roads, to work.
"This is a solution that has to include interconnected local roads," he said. "You can't just have one and think that's going to solve everything."
To illustrate the need for such a plan, Vial used the example of Intel, a technology company with a large plant in Hillsboro. He said that production on computer chips ends earlier than it used to at Intel, so that their products can make it through traffic and to the Portland International Airport for shipment in time.
"They're shutting down way earlier than they did before," he said, "because of the transportation problem."
Vial was the chief sponsor of (House Bill 3231), which would have allowed cities and counties to enter into public-private partnerships for special districts to oversee limited-access roads. The bill got a hearing but did not advance.
Vial voted against House Joint Resolution 203 in this year's legislative session, which would make health care access a right for every Oregon citizen.
"I've taken a lot of criticism for that," he said. "Here's the problem: We're Oregon. Without taxing ourselves significantly more than we are taxing ourselves already, we don't have the ability to offer everybody the health care that they want. … I'm not going to come ask you, as my constituents, for more tax money before we have a solution that really makes sense."
Vial likened the state's responsibility to health care to that of curbing the effects of climate change, saying he was skeptical about what impact Oregon could have on climate change, no matter what kind of legislation it passes.
"There's nothing wrong with being a thought leader. There's nothing wrong with setting an example for the rest of the world. But let's ask ourselves, what is the cost of being a thought leader?"
Several teachers in attendance at the town hall asked if Vial supports devoting more state money to schools. Oregon's school funding currently is under enormous pressure due to PERS, the state's employee pension system, hitting a bubble.
Vial answered that he thought the state needed to prioritize how education money is spent, before devoting more money to it. He said that in his time on the House Education Committee, he saw "billions of dollars" put toward high-level trainings, rather than going directly to the classroom level.
"I can't look you in the eye and say, the answer is more money," he said. "The answer is how we use that money."
Vial also said that the state was in need of "well-trained and qualified teachers who are culturally and emotionally equipped to teach the classes that they're going to have to teach."
Attendee Maddie Briggs interrupted Vial to respond to this. She is a member of the political activist group Our Indivisible Revolution Sherwood, which supports Vial's opponent, Neron.
"Shame on you," she said. "You can't beat on teachers anymore."
This prompted a heated back-and-forth exchange that lasted about two minutes. At one point, Vial told Briggs that he would like to pay teachers more.
"Well then stop waiting around for the budget to be balanced out, and meanwhile the world burns, to see your statistics in five years," Briggs countered. "I don't believe in your exchange system. It's not progressive enough. You're not doing enough."
In a follow-up email to the Courier, Briggs said that she finds Vial "disingenuous in his 'middle-ground' approach as our Representative."
"He recognizes that both the demographics and the sentiments have changed in his district, and he is couching his stances on that," she added, saying Vial's remark about needing more well-trained teachers, "is a shameful thing to say and adds on to a wrong-headed attitude that has been steadily growing for the last decade or more — this idea that teachers are to blame for all the ills of society."
Vial is up for re-election on Tuesday, Nov. 6. The deadline to register to vote is Oct. 16.