In the absence of U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, five challengers vying for her seat in the 1st Congressional District pitched themselves to voters during an election forum Tuesday night at Astoria High School.
Astoria Mayor Arline LaMear started the exchange by reading a statement from Bonamici, a Democrat who has served in the U.S. House for six years.
“Over the past year and a half, things in Congress have become more challenging, to say the least, and as a country we’re facing a growing number of critical issues for Congress to address,” LaMear said for the congresswoman. “I’m running because I’m up to the task and I want to continue to create a better future for Northwest Oregonians.”
Challenging Bonamici in the Democratic primary in May are Ricky Barajas, a dental office manager, and Michael Stansfield, a quality control engineer and author.
“My platform pretty much is investing in people,” Barajas said. “I believe if we invest in people in our communities, and surround them with education and health care, we can achieve things together.”
Stansfield is part of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement opposing Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory and supporting boycotts of the country. He took issue with Bonamici’s support of the Israel Anti-Boycott Act. The proposed legislation would promote U.S.-Israeli cooperation and oppose boycotts of Israel organized by foreign governments and international organizations. Some have voiced concern the legislation could stifle protest of Israel.
“I don’t understand how silencing the religious left is going to help fight the religious right,” he said.
Three Republicans are vying in the May primary.
George Griffith, a mechanical design engineer who previously worked for Apple, Intel Corp. and a NASA contractor, said he has more relevant experience than Bonamici, a lawyer. Espousing some libertarian viewpoints during the forum, Griffith called out Bonamici and other incumbents for taking money from super PACs and corporations.
Preston Miller is a student at Portland State University who served with the Army during a peacetime tour in South Korea and a combat tour in Afghanistan.
“I love my country, and I didn’t spend a year in Afghanistan dodging bullets and bombs to see it torn apart by petty, partisan politics, and from the progressives who like to blame the entire world’s problems on America,” Miller said.
John Verbeek is an insurance and financial strategist who said he lives in the “people’s republic of Portland” — a nod to the city’s liberal reputation — but filed in Bonamici’s district for a better shot as a Republican candidate. He has made previous runs for seats in the state House and Senate.
“The road map to freedom is the U.S. Constitution,” he said, also focusing on improving transportation and health care.
Asked how they would make schools safer, Verbeek focused on working with law enforcement, while Miller called for arming teachers and giving bonuses for concealed carry permits. Griffith disagreed with arming teachers because of the potential confusion for police in a crisis situation.
Stansfield called for improved security and introducing all religions and morality into schools. Barajas supported arming officers in schools, but said there needs to be more research on the issue of gun violence.
Barajas called for taking money from the military to fund other programs, while Stansfield said candidates should publish their proposed budgets and tax rates.
Miller called for ending foreign aid to countries unsupportive of the U.S.; Verbeek voiced his support for the recent Republican tax plan and said entitlement programs should be cut to create revenue; and Griffith said the focus needs to be on government waste, calling raising taxes or cutting services a false choice. Both he and Verbeek called for cuts to the state Public Employees Retirement System.
Griffith was the only Republican to support ending the Electoral College, while Miller and Verbeek said it protects people in less populous states. Miller called for overturning the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that protected political contributions by corporations as free speech. Griffith called on politicians to stop taking money from super PACs, while Verbeek pointed to Bonamici as the most well-heeled candidate.