State House candidates appeal to voters at forum

Colin Murphey/EO Media Group Candidates prepare to answer questions from the audience in Astoria.

The five hopefuls to replace state Rep. Deborah Boone in state House District 32 pitched themselves to voters Tuesday in a candidate forum at Astoria High School.

Three Democrats are running in the May primary, including Tillamook County Commissioner Tim Josi and political newcomers John Orr and Tiffiny Mitchell.

Josi, who served in the state House from 1991 to 1998 and the last 20 years on the Tillamook County Commission, has come out as the early front-runner with the broadest name recognition and biggest campaign coffer. He touted his experience and how he has been reacquainting himself with people in the district.

“I served this area, and the people who remember me know it’s not what you do in Salem,” Josi said. “It’s what you do when you’re in the district.”

Orr, a local lawyer, called himself the true progressive candidate of the race, noting his experience leading the North Coast Land Conservancy, working at recycling company Trails End Recovery, running a local legal practice for 24 years and serving as a municipal judge in Gearhart for more than 20 years.

“I know firsthand the issues that face the people who live here and work here,” Orr said. “I know how laws affect people.”

Mitchell, a case management coordinator for the state Department of Human Services, moved to Oregon from Utah in 2015 and jumped into the race after local college adviser Melissa Ousley dropped out.

An activist with progressive group Indivisible North Coast Oregon, Mitchell has cast herself as a candidate for the working class. “I’m going to be that voice that will fight for all of you in Salem,” she said.

Vineeta Lower, an educator with the Oregon Virtual Academy, is the sole Republican candidate after the withdrawal of Banks contractor Gene Stout. She touted her education experience and said the state needs to focus more on developing trades programs and internships to increase student engagement.

Brian Halvorsen, a community organizer who founded North Coast Progressives last year, has filed as an Independent and focused his campaign on economic fairness, environmental justice and campaign finance reform.

Asked how they would address school safety, the three Democratic candidates and Halvorsen focused on stricter gun laws and improved mental health services. While a ban of assault-style weapons would be unlikely to pass constitutional muster because of operational similarities with a hunting rifle, Orr said, he supports intensive yearly mental health screenings for students. As a former teacher, Lower said, schools need to focus on bullying.

All candidates except for Lower supported reworking the tax system to provide more revenue for services. Mitchell, Orr and Halvorsen specifically supported raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations. Lower said the focus should be on trimming government waste.

All candidates voiced support for a national popular vote for president except for Lower, who seemed unsure, and all supported some form of campaign finance reform. Halvorsen said the state should move toward a similar model of partial public financing found in Portland, where municipal candidates starting next year can agree to limit private fundraising in exchange for a public match.

Each candidate was given a chance to voice a top priority.

“If we don’t have housing for the people who want to work in our communities, we’re going to grind this economy down to a halt,” Josi said.

Orr focused on raising taxes on the wealthy rather than the middle class to stabilize funding. “Until we do this, we will accomplish nothing,” he said.

Mitchell, recounting how her parents’ insurance was able to pay for treatment of her brain tumor as a child, focused on the need for affordable health care. “No one should have to worry about their own finances when they’re sick,” she said. “They should be focused on getting better.”

Lower decried the condition of Northwest Oregon’s highways, calling for more infrastructure investments.

Halvorsen called for economic fairness. “We need to level the playing field between the rich and the working class,” he said.

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