Democrats offer ideas at ‘town hall’

Sean C. Morgan

Of The New Era

Three of four Democrats running for contested offices in November visited Sweet Home Thursday night with messages stressing economic development through development of ethanol using the forests, protecting farmland and encouraging the consumption of local produce, combating addiction to methamphetamines and providing health care to everyone who doesn’t have it.

Visiting Sweet Home were Pete Boucot, who is running for county commissioner against incumbent Roger Nyquist; Dan Thackaberry, who is running for state House District 17 against incumbent Sherrie Sprenger; and Bob McDonald, who is running for state Senate District 9 against incumbent Fred Girod.

Gordon Kirbey did not make it to the event. He is running for county commissioner against Republican Will Tucker. The winner of that race will succeed Cliff Wooten.

The “town hall” meeting was the first of several that area Democrats plan to bring back to Sweet Home and other areas in the county this summer and fall, Boucot said.

On a sunny Thursday evening, the meeting at the Fire Hall drew little response. Attendance included three firefighter-paramedics who were on duty. Boucot said he thought the meetings would draw more interest later as the November election draws closer, and he definitely plans to spend time in Sweet Home.

“As a person interested in running for commissioner, I refuse to leave,” said Boucot, a resident of the Lebanon area and a supervisor at Costco in Albany. “You’re not going to get rid of me.”

He will be there for Sweet Home, he said. He is most interested in developing ethanol from wood fiber, which would develop the local economy, providing jobs while cleaning up the forest, reducing fire danger and creating healthier forests.

He also wants to protect farm and forest land for local food production when it becomes needed and prevent such wasteful spending as the county’s purchase of the Roth property near Interstate 5 and Highway 34, something he said cost the county twice as much as the going rate for farmland. The county is now spending thousands of dollars on a wetlands survey and will need to mitigate wetlands to develop the property into a regional park.

The park was to be used for a renaissance fair, and now the county is talking about an RV park there, he said. With the price of fuel, it’s not a good choice.

He supported Measure 49, he said. “The voters in this state decided overwhelmingly they made a mistake on Measure 37.”

In a “Democrat-Herald” story, Boucot said, Nyquist said “that having that piece of property available would put us in the same league as the Redding, Californias, of this world.”

He doesn’t want to see Oregon turn into California, which develops 75,000 acres of farmland every year, Boucot said.

Linn County produces 3 percent of the food consumed in the county, Boucot said. He would like to encourage local production and consumption of food. Linn County shouldn’t import meat from New Zealand or foodstuffs from China.

“The only solution boils down to economics,” Boucot said, using tax incentives to encourage the growth of locally owned and controlled businesses and farms.

He and his wife sell their own farm produce at local farmers markets, he said. Grants are available to help get farmers markets, cooperatives and food webs going. He would spend part of his time pursuing these.

“The people deserve a county commissioner that is going to listen to their needs and serve their needs,” Boucot said. “I’m that man.”

He is accessible and will act on those needs as necessary and as appropriate, he said. “It’s my responsibility to do what I can to bring in quality jobs. The people in this county deserve a high quality of life.”

Thackaberry is a Lebanon-area farmer who said he wants to “be the type of representative that represents all the people in the district, not special interests.”

And he doesn’t do partisan politics, he said. “I believe I’m a candidate that can cross party lines and get things done.”

He identified two main goals: fighting methamphetamines and boosting the local economy through development of alternative energy, specifically ethanol produced from wood fiber.

Meth is the biggest reason for property crimes and child abuse, Thackaberry said. “We’re trying to fight a drug problem with a jail cell. It costs a lot of money, and we’re not getting anywhere.”

Thackaberry wants to get tougher on drug traffickers while providing drug treatment for addicts, he said. Only one state spends less than Oregon on drug treatment, while Texas has saved $250 million after deciding to stress drug treatment.

“You can’t solve a drug problem with jail cells,” he said, adding that the most expensive drug treatment program is two-thirds the cost of incarceration.

“This state needs to step up and have that, begin a comprehensive drug treatment program and a comprehensive drug prevention program. We’re spending more money on locking people behind bars than we spend on higher education.”

That should be the other way around, he said. It wouldn’t take more taxes – just a shift in spending.

For crimes, he said, he supports putting the criminal in a jail cell, but addicts must be required to go through drug treatment.

In alternative energy, “this state has an opportunity to be a leader,” he said. This state has a forest products infrastructure already in place, and Oregon can use it to solve problems in overstocked forests while providing wood ethanol as an alternative fuel.

Further, “let’s get farmers growing crops to turn into fuel,” he said. “It’s jobs. It’s economic development, and it gets us off this imported oil addiction we’ve got.”

Programs would use tax incentives to develop alternative fuel sources, he said. Tax credits would permit firms to retrofit mills to handle wood waste or build new mills.

McDonald is a retired family physician from the Silverton area, and he is passionate about healthcare for all Oregonians.

“Healthcare costs are now the No. 2 cause of bankruptcy in Oregon and the U.S.,” he said. “The average health insurance premium in Oregon is $12,000 per year, but even with insurance you’re not safe.”

Due to increased deductibles, co-pay costs, medication costs and coverage exclusions, 80 percent of families bankrupted actually had insurance, he said. “Thus the reality is that many Oregon families who think they’re insured are still only one illness away from losing everything.”

Based on his experience as a physician, patient, small business owner, founding member of Silverton Hospital’s ethics committee, a six-year veteran of the Oregon Medical Association’s Medical Review Committee, mediating between angry patients and defensive doctors and now volunteering as a physician providing free medical care for the uninsured at Silverton Community Outreach Clinic, he said, he understands the problems and can offer solutions.

“There should be no gaps in coverage, no cracks to fall through and no denial for preexisting conditions,” he said.

He said his opponent, Girod, has received contributions from a number of special interests, representing pharmaceuticals, natural gas, mortgage brokers and bankers. Last fall Girod opposed the cigarette tax, which would have funded healthcare for children, he said.

“He can’t have a clear vision,” McDonald said. “He’s tied down to special interests.”

McDonald said he is the best candidate for agriculture, which is the largest part of his district’s economy. He worked for the passage of Measure 49, “protecting Oregon’s farm and timber land from destruction by developers;” and he will continue this effort.

He strongly supported raising the estate tax exemption for family farms to protect families from losing their farms due to taxes and having to buy the farm back every generation.

He said he will supportfunding for the Extension service, and he is fighting to “protect District 9 farmers from having their land and its value stolen from them by the natural gas industry.”