Mike Nearman is a solidly conservative legislator in a solidly conservative region, state House District 23, which covers rural areas of Benton, Polk, Marion and Yamhill counties.
Nearman, a former software engineer who lives in Independence, is seeking his third term. He won election in 2014 by defeating Democrat Wanda Davis by a 52.8 percent to 36.1 percent margin. In 2016 he was re-elected, downing Independent Jim Thompson by a 52.9 percent to 37.2 percent margin. No Democrat filed papers for the 2016 race. Nearman also ousted three-term incumbent Thompson in the 2014 GOP primary.
Nearman's November opponent is Democrat Danny Jaffer, an Oregon State University graduate, former Navy pilot and current president of the Luckiamute Domestic Water Cooperative. Jaffer also is running as the candidate of the Independent, Pacific Green, Working Families and Progressive parties while also receiving the endorsement of Kris Morse Bledsoe, who lost to Nearman in the May 15 Republican primary.
Jaffer and Nearman participated in a League of Women Voters of Corvallis forum on Wednesday at the Corvallis-Benton County Public Library. Libertarian Mark Karnowski of Dallas also is on the ballot, but he was not present at the forum.
Nearman and Jaffer provided plenty of contrasts at the forum, particularly on the five statewide measures on the Nov. 6 ballot. The two candidates agreed only on Measure 102, which would allow governments to issue debt for affordable housing projects involving nongovernmental organizations. Both favor the measure, which Nearman helped prepare.
Nearman favors 103 (prohibits grocery taxes), 104 (expands the three-fifths legislative requirement for legislative bills that increase revenue), 105 (repeal of the state's sanctuary law) and 106 (prohibits public funding of abortion). Jaffer opposes all four.
Nearman was involved in the preparation for Measure 105 and has been criticized for his affiliation with Oregonians For Immigration Reform, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has called a “hate” group.
Nearman told forum participants “I am not anti-immigrant.” He added an anecdote about an individual named Sergio Martinez, who was sentenced July 30 to 35 years in prison for sex crimes against two Portland women. Before committing the crimes Martinez had been deported more than 10 times.
“That’s what the measure is going to stop,” Nearman said. “It’s not that local law enforcement is going to be your ICE agent.”
Jaffer noted the overwhelming vote in the Legislature when the sanctuary law passed more than three decades ago.
“This piece of legislation is not going to go what it’s supposed to do and will increase the probability of racial profiling,” Jaffer said.
Nearman said that a “yes” vote to Measure 104 means “we will be taking a highlighter to the constitution, not changing it. The Legislature consistently finds loopholes and workarounds to increase taxes without the three-fifths majority.”
Jaffer countered that “sometimes you have to raise fees to provide services and you have to trust legislators to do the right thing.”