By Tom Henderson • Staff Writer • 

Thompson extends olive branch, Nearman responds with sword

When the two candidates for House District 23 spoke at a forum hosted by the McMinnville Noon Kiwanis Oct. 13, they answered a variety of questions posed by retired Yamhill County Counsel John Gray, acting as moderator, but kept returning to their greatest hits.

Nearman, who unseated Thompson in the 2014 Republican primary, markets himself as a bulwark against the Legislature’s Democratic majority.

A former Republican, Thompson is running this year as an Independent. He contends the real problem in Salem is the gridlock between partisan politicians who think compromise is a four-letter word.

“I’m running to bring things back together,” Thompson said at the forum, claiming he springs from the same tradition as Republican political legends Tom McCall and Mark Hatfield. “I don’t think you send people down there to throw mudballs at each other.”

Nearman countered by asserting Republican lawmakers are not being tough enough.

“I don’t think the problem is we don’t make enough deals with Democrats,” he said. “You need someone who will stand up to these people.”

Thompson said the Democrats didn’t seize power by force. “They didn’t put themselves in, we did,” he said.

He likened the Legislature, in a simile he has used repeatedly throughout the campaign, as the people’s board of directors.

“On corporate boards of directors, no one comes in and asks who are the Democrats and who are the Republicans,” he said. “We have to stop the nonsense.”

Stopping the nonsense means stopping the Democrats, Nearman said. “We’ve had one-party rule for 30 years,” he said.

Beyond their basic philosophies of government, the candidates found themselves relatively close on a number of individual issues.

They both said Oracle was used as a scapegoat in the lawsuit filed by the state against the company that developed software for the fumbling CoverOregon health program.

“The whole thing is a bunch of garbage,” said Nearman. “The people who really make the money are the lawyers on both sides,” said Thompson.

Both agreed the launch of CoverOregon was overdeveloped and collapsed under its own weight.

The candidates also agreed that Oregon needs more flexibility in its land-use laws.

However, Nearman took aim at the comprehensive land-use system pioneered under Gov. Tom McCall in 1973. Too much land was set aside for farming, Nearman said, when much of the land will never see a plow. That land could be used for housing developments, he said.

While Thompson called for more flexibility, he said it can be achieved within the framework of the existing system.

The candidates were also united in their opposition to the Measure 97 corporate tax hike.

Thompson said it would give the Legislature too much money with no budget and no plan. “The last thing I want to see is someone coming through the door with a wheelbarrow full of money,” he said.

Nearman blamed the Democrats for what he considers a looming debacle.

“This is the worst possible thing we could do,” he said. “This is the result of one-party rule. These are the people who like to write checks.”

To limit public employees’ retirement costs, Nearman recommended curbing the number of public employees. Much of the cost of government can be reduced, he said, by contracting jobs to the private sector, and that includes public education by relying more on charter and private schools.

He also criticized public employees getting benefits through PERS’ generous Tier 1. However, Thompson, married to a retired teacher, countered that those employees weren’t offered alternatives when the benefits were instituted during the lean years of the 1970s, so it’s not their fault.

Thompson also warned that compromises are always necessary in the legislative process, and cuts are much harder to make.

“There’s a constituency for every dumb thing we do,” he said. “In Oregon, there are no easy answers to questions.”

Yes there are, Nearman countered, and it all gets back to the Democrats.

“The Democrats are in control,” he said. “They just go from spending project to spending project to spending project.”

Thompson said confidence in government is unquestionably at an all-time low, but residents should remember they are voters, not subjects, and thus hold the ultimate power.

“Folks, we are the Legislature and the city council,” he said. “Look in the mirror.”