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Oregon's 5th: A Diverse And Dynamic District, And Race

OPB | April 21, 2014 7:15 p.m. | Updated: April 22, 2014 6:49 a.m. | Portland

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Oregon’s 5th Congressional District is geographically diverse.

It stretches from the ocean beaches of Lincoln City over the coast range to the farms of the Willamette Valley, to the state capitol in Salem and suburbs of Portland.

All that geographic diversity makes for plenty of political diversity too, meaning historically the 5th district hasn’t been safe for any  party.

Oregon Representative Kurt Schrader talks with David Miller, host of OPB's Think Out Loud.

Oregon Representative Kurt Schrader talks with David Miller, host of OPB's Think Out Loud.

Michael Clapp / OPB

The 5th district’s incumbent is Democrat Kurt Schrader, a farmer and founder of the Clackamas County Veterinary Clinic in Oregon City.

He’s in his third term and has raised $960,000 for his re-election effort.

“We’ve been behaving much better in Congress these days. What was a horrible Congress last year has sprouted some bipartisanship so far this year. And while the budget act didn’t get at the debt deficit issues or fix our safety net or tax system the way I’d like, it did provide a framework for actually coming up with budget numbers for a whole two years. And that’s pretty good around here unfortunately,” Schrader says.

He also points to the Farm Bill and Flood Insurance as examples of legislation coming out of Congress this year.

But the legislation uppermost in the minds of many incumbent Democrats is the Affordable Care Act, particularly in Oregon where the state’s Cover Oregon health exchange website has had serious problems.

He explained, “You know it’s terrible. The exchange is terrible. It’s the worst in the nation. No excuses. Governor I guess is all over that at this point in time. But I don’t want folks to miss the opportunity to sign up for maybe a better health care plan.  I have people still very concerned about double-digit increases in their old plans. And my message to everybody is ‘Hey, try it.’ “

Time will tell if voters will forget about website problems and instead judge the Affordable Care Act on the health insurance it provides.

But first, Schrader has to face the primary.

There’s one challenger in his party, Anita Brown, a retired union worker from Orange County, California. She says she didn’t want to see Schrader run unopposed.

“He was against raising the federal minimum wage and so for me, that was wrong. So I looked into a little further on what he’s voted on and I was very disappointed. He seemed to be voting a lot for Republicans on economic issues,” Brown says.

She also blames Schrader and the Blue Dog Democrats for killing a single payer system in favor of the Affordable Care Act.

She says she hasn’t raised any money because she can’t compete with Schrader’s fundraising.

Tootie Smith

Tootie Smith

Kristian Foden-Vencil / OPB

But the bigger nomination battle in this race is being fought between the two Republican primary contenders: Clackamas County Commissioner Tootie Smith, who has raised $17,000 and 29-year-old Ben Pollack, who has raised about $59,000.

Pollock is a 4th generation Oregonian, who went to college in Texas where he says, he became a little more conservative.

“And then I got a masters degree in Washington D.C. in public policy. That’s where I got my first job in politics. I became a legislative aide. And then I went back to Texas for a couple of years, managed some political campaigns, worked in the legislature there. And then came home, to help run the family business.”

Ben Pollock

Ben Pollock

Kristian Foden-Vencil / OPB

Pollock says he’s seeking office to tackle the nation’s debt; because of the negative effects of what he calls ‘Obamacare;’ and because of the “administration’s economically destructive policies.”

Pollack is critical of Tootie Smith’s record on the County Commission.

Last year, she voted to allow law enforcement officers to search the coolers of Clackamas park visitors.

“I think that rubs a lot of people the wrong way. I think if you’re in a park with a cooler, that’s not reason to think you’re doing anything suspicious,” Pollock says.

Pollock would have issued fines to litterbugs and the visually intoxicated instead.

At the Singer Hill Coffee Shop in Oregon City, Tootie Smith stands by her vote.

“People were drinking they were falling out of their rafts and inner tubes and literally drowning on the river. And they had many, multiple rescues in the summer months, when it was hot. It’s no different than if you go to a Ducks football game or the Moda Center, you can’t take alcohol into those centers either.”

Another fourth generation Oregonian, Tootie Smith lives on her hazelnut farm in the Mulino area. She’s been a journalist, a lobbyist and a state representative.

When she talks about why she’s running, she emphasizes the intrusiveness of the federal government.

“You know we have the Obamacare. It’s a huge failure. They said they were going to have 40 million people sign up and now it’s a great success at seven million. Of those seven million, how many have actually paid, you know we’re not being told those things,” Smith says.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that close to 40  million people would get coverage under the Affordable Care Act in 10 years.

But the goal in the first year was six or seven million. Enrollment just reached eight million.

Both Smith and Pollock say the Affordable Care Act needs to be repealed.

Smith says she’s like to replace it with tort reform.

“If a lawyer can get a hold of a patient and then the doctor is sued because they know he has huge liability insurance. It creates a system where the doctor’s not practicing medicine for what’s best for the patient, they’re practicing medicine out of the fear they’re going to get sued,” Smith said.

Pollock has other ideas.

“You know, allow companies to sell insurance across state lines. Give people a standard tax deduction for health care premiums. Allow them to buy with pre-tax dollars.  Allow individuals to spend more of their own money in health savings accounts. A lot of that stuff.”

The primary for Democrats and Republicans is May 20.

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