Today the Salem City Club hosted a debate between Tom Andersen (D) and TJ Sullivan (R), who are vying to represent House District 19 in the Oregon legislature.
In Sullivan's opening statement he said that he'd had a reaction to the vaccine (Covid, I assume), causing a stroke. He's on the road to recovery. It was moving to hear Sullivan say that when he was finally able to touch his thumb and index finger together, that was so thrilling he kept doing it all day long.
The first City Club question was about whether the candidates favored repealing Measure 110, a voter-passed initiative that decriminalized previously illegal drugs and allocated funds to treatment programs. Andersen said no, but saw a need to spend the treatment money effectively. Sullivan does favor repeal, saying that people don't feel safe in their homes as drug use has risen.
The second question asked if Oregon's "kicker" program that refunds taxes exceeding what was projected to be raised by the state economist should be kept as is. I think this is a dumb idea, since it prevents Oregon from saving money in good times that can be spent in bad times. But both Sullivan and Andersen said it was a good idea. Probably politically wise to say that, since people like tax refunds.
Regarding the four statewide measures on the November ballot, the candidates were asked to state their position on two. Andersen said he favored all four, singling out Measure 113, which prevents a state legislator from running for office again if they have ten or more unexcused absences in a legislative session due to walkouts, and Measure 114, which controls firearms in several ways. Sullivan said he opposes Measure 111, which enshrines the right to health care in the state constitution and supports Measure 113.
Asked by the City Club if they favor decreasing state spending, Sullivan said he doesn't want a decrease, but wants spending to be more effective. He singled out mental health care as especially ineffective, a point he made repeatedly, often in regards to the plight of homeless people. Andersen agreed, saying he also wants effective spending. Andersen touted his skills as a lawyer in analyzing complex issues, communicating facts, and persuading people (a point he made repeatedly in the debate).
When it came time for questions from the audience, Sullivan said that he saw no reason to believe that Biden didn't win the presidency, though I don't recall him saying that the election was free and fair. Andersen said, of course Biden won.
Regarding campaign finance reform in Oregon, Andersen said he's always been outspent by political opponents. He mentioned Phil Knight's multi-million dollar contributions, noting that Oregon has no limits on individual contributions. Sullivan said the legislature is owned by the OEA (Oregon Education Association) and OPEU (Oregon Public Employees Union). Unlike Andersen, he wants to see political spending limited to individuals.
Both Andersen and Sullivan said they favor a nonpartisan redistricting commission in Oregon. Andersen said he's willing to explore an open primary in Oregon while Sullivan said he's not sure about this idea.
Asked about a ban on gas powered vehicles and the use of natural gas, Sullivan said no to banning gas powered vehicles, noting that PGE has said there isn't enough power to charge electric vehicles if everybody used one. Andersen spoke about his leadership in getting the Salem Climate Action Plan created, saying that most emissions in our city come from single user cars, adding that cooking with natural gas is good, but heating with it is bad.
Both candidates are willing to look at ranked-choice voting.
Regarding Oregon's overriding problems, Sullivan singled out mental health care and a need to work on the effects of climate change. Andersen said climate change, noting that this is a time of great peril for the climate.
Not surprisingly, both candidates are enthusiastic about affordable housing. (I've never heard a politician say, "I want more unaffordable housing.") They also both like vocational career training programs. And both oppose capital punishment.
Sullivan's first bill in the legislature would refocus Oregon Health Authority spending on mental health. Andersen's first bill would ban the use and sale of pesticides that cause bees to die out. Andersen also wants to have each city be able to make its own rules regarding the open carry of firearms.
Asked about reproductive rights, Sullivan said he is pro life and that tax dollars shouldn't pay for abortions. Andersen said he's in favor of a woman's right to choose.
The person who posed the abortion question told me after the debate that at a Salem Chamber of Commerce candidate forum a few weeks ago, Sullivan was asked about abortion rights and said:
"When I take the oath... if you are going to uphold the [Oregon] Constitution, right to life is one of the first things that's in there. I don't know how you pick and choose and say okay I am going to uphold this part of the Constitution and not that part of the Constitution."
Here's Section 1 of the Oregon Constitution. I don't see anything about a right to life there in the sense of banning abortion.