Many Oregon 1st Congressional District voters are deeply concerned about the economy.
The district’s collective county unemployment rates remain modestly better than the state’s overall jobless number. But economic insecurity and underemployment have a tight hold over voters.
The 1st Congressional District represents a variety of economic interests. Coastal fisheries, state-run timber holdings, multimillion-dollar agricultural operations, as well as glitzy high-tech and green businesses.
Some counties in Oregon would envy the relative prosperity seen in part of the 1st District this year, as Republican and Democratic candidates battle it out in a special election primary. But times are not what they were. And even fully-employed voters like Beaverton resident Herman Muir want to hear about job creation.
We found Muir and his family at Tualatin’s annual Giant Pumpkin Regatta. He took time out from the maritime action to say he’s not confident about the regional economy.
“It’s still not doing that great,” says Muir who does data modelling for Nike. “Not just where I am, but a lot of other companies are cutting because they want to make sure to meet their numbers for next year.”
Tualatin residents Nicole Gifford and Andrew Allen just moved into the 1st District after attending Oregon State University. Gifford is a civil engineer and surveyor. Allen works for a plastic injection molding company as a temporary assistant.
Allen’s not sure how long his work will last — maybe another six months. Gifford’s prospects are only slightly better.
“My internship ends right before Christmas. I’m hoping they have enough work to keep me on and hire me. There’s a chance that won’t happen,” she says.
Walking among voters at the Pumpkin Regatta, Republican Rob Cornilles says he has plans to temper the uncertainty of the job market.
“There are so many things small business owners like me need in order to take the risk and make the investment to hire people,” Cornilles says.
The founder of the sports marketing firm GameFace says he wants to reduce regulations that cover the treatment of employees in the workplace. He did not cite specific policies, but said any policies that require legal counsel for compliance are probably overly cumbersome.
He favors eliminating tax loopholes that only large corporations can use, and lowering tax rates overall. He also has a beef with the piecemeal nature of tax reforms.
“Politicians in Washington D.C. keep wanting to suggest a new fix, but their fixes are always temporary. And that’s not how businesses work. They always want to look two years down the road, ten years down the road, and make plans accordingly.”
Cornilles has said repeatedly on the campaign trail he would favor retooling — although not repealing — the Dodd-Frank Wall Street regulation bill that tightens the rules on certain lending practices.
Cornilles says it’s stopping lenders from getting loans to businesses. He declined to be specific about aspects he’d revise. He did say he’s not in favor of repealing it.
Given the time he’s spent talking about banks on the campaign trail, some observers were surprised to hear his response to a question on reviving the 1930s-era Glass-Steagall Act, which prohibited commercial banks from participating in investment business.
Its repeal has been blamed in some quarters for deepening the 2008-2009 financial crisis.
Eric Schmidt, who moderated a candidates’ forum in Beaverton on Monday asked the candidates about that, “The question’s pretty simply, Do you support re-enacting Glass-Steagall. The Glass Steagall Act.”
“I’m not familiar with that.” Cornilles replied.
“If you don’t know what it is, I’ll go first,” Jim Greenfield jumped in.
Greenfield is arguably Cornilles’ closest contender in the Republican primary. He’s a real estate investor who - like Cornilles — has run in the district before. He was the Republican nominee in 2002. In a phone interview Greenfield explained what he sees as the key to job growth.
“I think it doesn’t make any sense to tax the institutions in our society which create the wealth and create the jobs,” Greenfield says.
Greenfield advocates eliminating corporate taxes entirely.
“That reform by itself would be enough to substantially revitalize our economy.”
Greenfield adds that he feels many issues related to Oregon’s business climate originate at the state level. That said, he supports reduction of government regulations. On banking issues, by the way, he says he wants more deregulation, and serious pruning of the mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
The three leading Democratic contenders for the First District share some principles on job creation. All three say education plays a key role in healing the economy. That’s how Democratic state Senator Suzanne Bonamici framed the issue when asked what she’d do to stimulate jobs.
“I’ll start with K-12 education, which, for the past several years since NLCB has been focused too much on standardized testing,” Bonamici says.
Bonamici praised the President’s jobs bill, which Congress rejected, as a good start. She told OPB’s Think Out Loud Tuesday that she believes access to capital is also important.
“One of my priorities is getting access to capital for small businesses, for entrepreneurs. This is something I’ve worked on in the state legislature, with the credit unions, who have endorsed my candidacy to free up access to more capitol.”
Bonamici’s work in this area streamlined the application process for certain kinds of loans. She wants to broaden the role credit unions play nationally. She would use them to fill in the gaps in business lending created by the financial crisis. She has also talked about the importance of spending on infrastructure.
Infrastructure is the cornerstone of State Representative Brad Witt’s economic plans.
“If we were to invest in our nation’s most important economic sectors, infrastructure - in energy transmission and generation, by the end of the decade, our nation could have the smartest grid of any nation in the world. If we invested in transportation, we make sure our economy has a solid base on which to travel forward,” according to Witt.
Witt says he’d end the Bush tax cuts, and use the restored revenue to fund building projects he’s proposed. His credentials in organized labor are evident in his economic speeches, where he emphasizes the importance of family-wage jobs.
Another top contender in the Democratic primary is Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian. He, too, has talked on the stump about investments in infrastructure.
“We’ve got 30 million people in this country who are not working enough hours to make ends meet for their families. The answer to that begins with my proposal for a 21st century WPA program,” Avakian explains.
Avakian proposes using a government-funded work program to retrofit buildings with green technologies, beef up the electrical grid, and for other projects. When he’s asked about jobs, he also always mentions strengthening the relationship between business and community colleges, so that education can be tailored to the kind of jobs businesses need.
“I’ve helped build a partnerhip between Hampton Lumber affiliates in Tillamook and their local community college and high school, so that young people not only get experience at how you work at a 21st century mill in Oregon, but actually make a connection with an employer that can lead to a living wage job.”
These candidates are among those running in their parties’ special primary. Ballots are on their way to voters. Voting ends November 8th.