With the November election a month away, Democrat Tiffiny Mitchell has the edge over Republican Vineeta Lower in fundraising and name recognition in the state House District 32 race to replace Rep. Deborah Boone.
Mitchell, a first-time candidate who moved to Oregon several years ago from Utah, scored an upset victory in the Democratic primary in May over Tim Josi, a Tillamook County commissioner and former state lawmaker heavily backed by industry and political incumbents. As of Friday, Mitchell had raised nearly $177,000 in cash, along with more than $95,000 worth of in-kind contributions.
Aside from environmental and women’s groups, some of Mitchell’s biggest backers have been public-sector labor unions.
“The reason I’ve accepted support from those types of organizations is because they represent values that I already have, and honestly I think values that many people in our district have,” she said. “And that is to protect working people and to make sure that people have a voice at the table in terms of what’s fair for their working conditions.”
Mitchell, a social worker for the state Department of Human Services, is a member of the Service Employees International Union and a participant in the Public Employees Retirement System. Her state job and her ties to labor have raised questions about whether she would work to address the $25 billion unfunded liability in the pension system.
She has acknowledged a problem of affordability among higher-paid recipients, but said public employees are too often vilified. While the state cannot walk back promises to employees, it needs to get creative in paying down pension obligations, such as incentivizing agencies to find cost savings and spending any extra in budgets toward paying down the liability, she said.
Mitchell has focused her campaign on popular social issues such as making health care and housing more affordable, while raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations to provide more revenue. She has also called for more funding and career-technical opportunities in education.
Lower has emerged as the more industry-friendly candidate. As of Friday, she had raised nearly $84,000 in cash and $32,000 worth of in-kind contributions. Josi crossed party lines to endorse Lower, who has also gathered some of his support from timber, construction and other trade groups, along with Republican political action committees and incumbents around the state.
“He gets that I want to work on bipartisan solutions, and that I get what the timber industry is doing,” she said of Josi’s endorsement. “I get what our fishing industry is doing and what they’re up against, and how they’re already very heavily regulated.”
Lower, a teacher, has also focused her campaign on improving roads and education. She has called for more infrastructure improvements to the North Coast’s highways and bridges, including a bypass for commercial traffic around Astoria.
Like Mitchell, she has called for more career-technical educational opportunities, along with career assessments to direct students toward certain career tracks and professional visits to expose them to local jobs.
Lower declined to comment on how she would address the unfunded pension liability, or her opinion on a statewide measure to ban taxes on groceries.
One area where Mitchell and Lower differ is Measure 105, a state initiative to repeal Oregon’s sanctuary law.
Mitchell opposes the measure, saying the state should not waste resources helping law enforcement go after people whose only crime is being in the country illegally.
Lower, an immigrant from India, supports the measure. “If someone is illegal, and they are harming us, I don’t think that they should be protected,” she said.
Brian Halvorsen, an Independent candidate and progressive organizer from Rockaway Beach, has focused his campaign almost exclusively on campaign finance reform and economic justice. He recently formed a candidate committee but as of Friday had not reported any campaign contributions.
Like Mitchell, Halvorsen has called on raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations to provide more state revenue. He has also called for eliminating unlimited political contributions by individuals, businesses or unions, and closing tax loopholes. He advocates for rehabbing vacant properties and creating publicly funded housing to address affordability.
Randell Carlson, a project manager for engineering firm CH2M Hill who lives in Tillamook, is the Libertarian candidate in the race. A native of the Southwest, he moved to the area several years ago to work on semiconductor manufacturing at Intel in Hillsboro, he said.
A former Republican, Carlson said he became disillusioned with the party and interested in libertarian ideas like his father. His campaign focus is largely on decentralizing government.
“I’m hoping to return power back to the people at a lower level, to get rid of the national bipartisan argument that goes back and forth,” he said.