Mike Nearman is running against Jim Thompson again. But this time there is a bit of a twist.
Nearman, an Independence software engineer, defeated three-term incumbent Thompson in the House District 23 Republican primary in 2014 and easily won the general election in November in the largely rural district that includes parts of Polk, Benton, Yamhill and Marion counties.
Now it’s 2016 and Nearman and Thompson, a Dallas plant researcher, are facing off again, but this time in the general election. Nearman won the GOP primary despite losing in Polk County to Beth Jones, while Thompson is running as an Independent Party member. No Democrat filed papers to run in the district. Thompson, meanwhile, is hoping that moderates and Democrats in the general election pool will prefer him to the more conservative Nearman.
Also in the race are Pacific Green candidate Alex Polikoff, a Corvallis electrical engineer, and Libertarian Garrett Leeds, a Monmouth safety manager. All four candidates participated in a forum Monday night at the Corvallis-Benton County Public Library which serves as the basis for this story.
A key dividing line among the four candidates was Measure 97, the controversial initiative that will tax large corporations and use the money for education, health care and senior services.
Thompson said he “opposes 97 as written. It was not completed. They are dividing money between three areas but there is no formula for dividing up that money. It’s like wheeling money into the Legislature in a wheelbarrow and dumping it on the floor. It will be spent, you can count on that.”
Nearman noted that Measure 97 is “not a tax on profits but revenues and I’m certain" increased taxes will be passed on to consumers via higher prices.
Nearman also said the tax increase will trickle down to smaller companies and suppliers. “This is not what we need right now,” he said.
Leeds agreed. “The costs will be passed on. We will see that,” he said.
“I definitely support 97,” said Polikoff, who added that “corporations are not paying their fair share.” Polikoff also noted that the campaign over the measure is the most expensive in Oregon history, with those against it raising more than $20 million and backers at $10 million. “That’s why we’re awash in campaign ads,” he said.
Environmental issues also brought out differences between the candidates.
Leeds said he would rather see businesses take the lead rather than government regulation. “Let’s let business do what they do well, and if they pollute they should have to pay for any environmental damage they do,” he said. Leeds said he favored more renewable sources and also touted nuclear energy as being cost-effective and unfairly maligned.
Thompson noted the environmental issues as being “all connected” and said that Oregon is not doing enough to “collect, impound and preserve quality water,” a failure he said would have economic as well as environmental impacts.
Thompson added that emission reductions here might not matter much depending on what China and India are doing. He said he is “in favor of renewable energy when it can be done economically and efficiently, but you are not going to be able to run trucks on renewables any time soon.”
Polikoff recommended a program of carbon taxes and dividends to deal with climate change and strongly challenged that regulations are the issue.
“The problem is that people are dumping pollution into the atmosphere with no penalty,” he said. “When you look at it from the point of view of the free market the planetary and social costs are not taken into account.”
Nearman said that “letting forests burn and get bug infested produces financial problems, carbon problems and pollution problems. A lot of land in Oregon, 53 percent, has the same landlord (the federal government) 3,000 miles away. We’ve got to get those lands in local hands.”
Nearman said he was not in favor of a carbon tax and responded to an environmental question from an audience member by asking “did you drive here tonight?” and noting that “the clothing you are wearing got here in a truck and the food you ate today got here in a truck. Oregon is the most environmentally friendly state in the country. We need to take a step back.”
The forum also featured about 10 individuals, most of them in matching shirts and caps who stood in the back of the library meeting room.
Nearman noted that they were “Second Amendment” backers of his campaign and that “I appreciate you coming out.”