Rockne Roll/News-Register##Rep. Mike Nearman, left, and his challenger, former Rep. Jim Thompson, chat prior to the National Alliance on Mental Illness Yamhill County Affiliate candidates’ forum held at the McMinnville Public Library on Thursday, Oct. 6.
Rockne Roll/News-Register##Rep. Mike Nearman, left, and his challenger, former Rep. Jim Thompson, chat prior to the National Alliance on Mental Illness Yamhill County Affiliate candidates’ forum held at the McMinnville Public Library on Thursday, Oct. 6.
By Tom Henderson • Staff Writer • 

District 23 candidates mirror national divisions

Thompson, who served as the Republican representative in the district for two terms until being unseated by Nearman, regards himself as a link to a more civilized era, when the Legislature was less about partisan squabbling and emotional wedge issues than quietly conducting the state’s business.

Nearman campaigns as a safeguard against Oregon becoming a one-party state. He frequently speaks on the campaign trail of consistently say no to proposals originating from across the aisle. But he resents being branded an obstructionist.

“I don’t use the term to ‘obstructionist’ to describe myself,” he said. “I’m more on the right, but I don’t think those right-versus-left labels always apply. For instance, I am a big advocate of alternative medicine.

“I’m a grassroots advocate. That’s generally how I describe myself.”

Democrats are not evil people, Nearman said. However, he said they have held power in Oregon for too long.

“We’ve had 30 years of one-party rule,” he said. “The Democrats have consistently gotten their way. It’s important to have a different voice in the Legislature.”

Thompson said viewing politics through a partisan lens accomplishes absolutely nothing.

“That commitment to partisanship doesn’t change the world,” he said. “Politics is just over the top these days with the negativity.”

The Republican-leaning district covers southern Yamhill County, taking in Amity, Dayton and Willamina and up to McMinnville city limits. It also takes in a swath of rural Benton County on its southern end. However, it is dominated by Polk County.

Thompson entered the Legislature when state Rep. Lane Shetterly stepped down in 2004 to head the Oregon Land and Conservation and Development Commission. The GOP chose him to fill the remainder of the term.

The Dallas resident was one of five House candidates in the 2004 Republican primary, but lost to Brian Boquist.

When Boquist vacated the seat to seek the District 12 Senate seat in 2008, Thompson first won the Republican primary, then prevailed in the general election with 57 percent of the vote. He was re-elected in 2010 and 2012.

After losing to Nearman in the 2014 Republican primary, he is running this year as a member of the Independent Party of Oregon. He also holds the Democratic nomination on the basis of write-in votes.

“I remember when politics were civil, and I thought it was pretty rough at the time,” Thompson said.

The Legislature should not a part of the partisan bickering, he said. “It’s more of a people’s board of directors,” he said. “It’s a business management problem.”

Thompson has proven moderate on some social issues such as same-sex marriage. But like Nearman, he adheres to conservative political philosophies on such matters as Measure 97’s plans to tax Oregon companies with annual sales of $25 million or more.

“I think I understand the thinking behind it,” he said. But he said supporters are unfairly demonizing business, and he doesn’t trust the Legislature to be a wise steward of the money.

On transportation issues, Thompson said Portlanders and other urban residents seem to want to eliminate cars from the equation, while he wants a westside freeway extending from Washington state along the coast to Eugene and Coos Bay.

“Any transportation plan has to include some real planning for rural areas,” he said. “”We’re not even talking about building new roads and railways, and that’s crazy.”

Coos Bay could be a major deep-water port, but no one can get there because of inadequate roads and rail, Thompson said. “We spend too much time thinking about potholes and not enough thinking about where we want to be when we grow up,” he said. “We could change our economic outlook so fast.”

Nearman criticizes Thompson on the campaign trail for receiving money from the Public Employees Retirement System.

Thompson’s wife is a retired teacher who earned Tier I status by virtue of her 1969 hiring. She had no choice on her categorization, Thompson said, and he resents the attack.

Thompson said the household is getting $18,000 a year from PERS. “I’m not buying a Maserati with the money,” he said.

PERS payments are court-mandated, having been upheld in four separate court cases, Thompson said. Issues surrounding PERS are not going to be solved by assailing the system itself, taking “cheap shots” at candidates or shouting at the wind, he said.

“If you look at my record, I don’t do that,” Nearman said.

In fact, he said, he has a history in the Legislature of working in a bipartisan spirit. He pointed to his work with State Rep. Barbara Smith Warner, D-Portland, on House Bill 2828 — a study to research new ways to fund health care in Oregon.

Nonetheless, Nearman balks at the way tax money is being spent overall. He cited the Oregon Department of Transportation’s goal of promoting traffic safety.

Most people think it entails building guard rails and making sure roads are properly banked, he said.

“I don’t think a notice on my Facebook page telling me not to text and drive is road safety,” he said. But he said, “That’s where your tax dollars are going.”

The Independence resident is a software engineer. In fact, he is the only software engineer in the Legislature.

“A lot of them don’t have social skills,” he said at an Oct. 13 forum hosted by the McMinnville Kiwanis Club.

Before being elected to the Legislature, Nearman served as chairman of the Polk County Republican Party. He is on the board of directors of Oregonians for Immigration Reform, which takes a hard line on immigration issues.

Shortly after joining the Legislature, he experienced a conflict with Boquist. Boquist ended up filing a complaint about Nearman with the Oregon Ethics Commission two years ago.

The commission found Nearman had, in fact, violated Oregon election law by providing incomplete information about his and his wife’s employers on his 2014 “Statement of Economic Interest.” But he avoided a fine by filing an amended statement.

Nearman claimed area newspapers, particularly the Polk County Itemizer-Observer, were biased in their coverage. The claims helped further Nearman’s reputation of disdain for journalists and editorial boards.

“I don’t think I am being rude to them,” he wrote on Facebook, in response to an allegation to that effect by the Salem Statesman Journal. “I just choose to not have a conversation with whatever aging hippie or 26-year-old kid they want to call a journalist — someone dedicated to ‘making a difference’ by taking out conservatives.”

He continued, “People fought and died so that they could have freedom of the press and they use this freedom in petty and vindictive ways. I choose to hold them accountable by treating them how they deserve to be.”

He complained that news organizations don’t print links to his blog and website. “Instead, they use their freedom of the press to vent and to express how hurt they are that an elected official such as myself will not grovel to them,” he said.

Thompson said his opponent’s contentious attitude does not serve the people of Oregon. “We keep dividing people from people when we should be doing just the opposite,” Thompson argued.

Nearman rejected the idea that he is dividing people. In fact, he doesn’t think division is a big problem in Salem.

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



When Thompson was in office before, I had sent several emails, letters and tried to have a couple of conversations with him. He was never available to have any conversation and I never received a response to any of the emails or letters.
With Nearman, I have received a response and acknowledgement to every single email / letter I have sent to him. I have also had a couple of face to face conversations with him. I have some disagreements with his points of view on a couple of issues, but I find him to be much more accessible, responsive and open to conversation.