25: Race pared to one issue: taxes

Since he was first elected in 1998, Rep. Vic Backlund of Keizer has had easy re-election races, but not this time.

He had no opponent in 2000. Against a Democrat in 2002, the Republican incumbent won 75 percent of the votes.

But on May 18, he faces a primary challenge from political newcomer Kim Thatcher of Keizer, a contractor who is attempting to make it a one-issue race.

Thatcher’s issue: Backlund’s 2003 vote in favor of a tax increase, which opponents petitioned to put on a statewide ballot.

Voters rejected Measure 30 on Feb. 3. Backlund also voted for direct referral of a tax increase that voters rejected as Measure 28 in 2003.

“Why do you keep supporting tax increases on the seniors and families in House District 25 when they repeatedly and overwhelmingly tell you they don’t want higher taxes?” Thatcher asked.

Thatcher’s candidacy is backed by Oregon Citizens for a Sound Economy, which led the opposition to what became Measure 30, and by two Mid-Willamette Valley Republican legislators who opposed it.

Of the 11 House Republicans who voted for it, Backlund and Rep. Susan Morgan of Myrtle Creek are being targeted by Citizens for a Sound Economy. Five are not seeking re-election and four have no primary opponents.

But as a three-term incumbent and a longtime teacher and coach at North Salem and McNary high schools, Backlund has amassed support from a wide array of interest groups and individuals.

“Given my three-term record, support from organizations and individuals, plus a tremendous constituent outreach — and the fact that you are a one- or two-issue candidate with no political experience or background — why should the voters vote for you instead of me?” Backlund asked of Thatcher.

The winner will face Roger Pike, a Democrat who lives outside Keizer and was his party’s nominee in 2000 against Sen. Roger Beyer, R-Molalla. Pike, an insurance company worker, is unopposed in the primary.

Registered Republicans lead Democrats in District 25, 45.5 percent to 32.7 percent. The district includes Keizer and St. Paul, and Newberg in Yamhill County. The Marion County portion cast about two-thirds of the district’s votes in 2002.

Listed below are their edited responses to questions from the Statesman Journal.

What is the most important background or experience that prepares you for this office?

Vic Backlund: “My life experiences have prepared me to deal with the issues that legislators face. This has been especially important in helping me develop people skills. Most importantly, my three terms in the Legislature have given me the knowledge and experience that are so helpful. I’ve proven my leadership qualities on many issues. I am a two-session chairman of the House Education Committee.”

Kim Thatcher: “When my husband lost his job, I started my own business to keep our family afloat. Today, I have more than 65 employees and my husband now works for me. As a businesswoman who cuts budgets and makes payroll every day, I will demand answers and accountability from state agencies. There is no excuse for government deviating from standard business and accounting practices used in the private sector. If we just do that, we’ll see savings.”

What separates you from your opponent? Why should the public vote for you?

Backlund: “I have demonstrated knowledge and leadership skills. I’m experienced in the legislative process, which can be complex. Without question, experience is beneficial. I have a proven record of accomplishments. I’m supported by many diverse groups. I’m an active participant in the activities of District 25. I am known for my dedication to constituent response.”

Thatcher: “I will defend the taxpayer. I’m the only candidate who opposed the $1 billion tax increase (Measure 30) on seniors and families. My opponent has consistently voted for higher taxes. As a parent of three public-school children and a businesswoman, I will bring real-world experience to the Legislature.”

Give an example of how you have worked in a collaborative, bipartisan manner to achieve positive change.

Backlund: “HB 2041, the transportation bill that allows bonding to repair bridges all over the state and also improves city and county infrastructure and will provide up to 4,800 jobs. HB 2744, which streamlined Oregon’s educational assessment system and brought Oregon into conformity with the federal government’s No Child Left Behind Act. HB 2341, which rewrote our state’s public contracting law and should make it much easier and better for private vendors doing business with the state.”

Thatcher: “I run an organization called the Oregon Contractors Association. We work to support the contracting industry. I’ve also worked on hundreds of construction sites in my time. All of this and being an employer require a ton of collaboration. I’m proud of the results. My employees and I have participated in the construction of many roads and bridges that people use every day.”

What are the three most important issues you would address if elected?

Backlund: “Government efficiencies must be continued. Job creation. Stable funding for education, including pre-kindergarten, K-12, community colleges and higher education.”

Thatcher: “Improving the business climate in Oregon so that businesses grow and create more jobs. Eliminating the certificates of initial and advanced mastery for public schools. Creating a spending limit and rainy-day fund in Oregon.”

How should the 2005 Legislature deal with school finance and the state budget?

Backlund: “An ideal would be that funding for public education and the state budget was not only adequate but could demonstrate to the public that those budgets were spending tax revenue efficiently and effectively. Practically speaking, though, I believe that the 2005 session will be similar to the 2003 session. The financial resources will not be available to do things very differently.”

Thatcher: “The first priority in the state budget should be to fund education so that we avoid having education funding held hostage at the end of the session in order to sell a tax increase. Also, we need to eliminate the certificates of initial and advanced mastery and layers of bureaucracy and millions of dollars in wasted taxpayer money. Not enough money is getting to the classroom where it’s needed. We need fewer administrators and burdensome regulations. Schools need to be held accountable for results, but they also need to be free to innovate.”

Other races

Republicans are battling for the party’s nomination in five House districts that include parts of Marion and Polk counties. The Statesman Journal is previewing those races.

Who is running in other local legislative races:

Senate District 9

Includes parts of Marion, Clackamas and Linn counties.

Sen. Roger Beyer, R, is unopposed

Senate District 12

Includes parts of Yamhill, Polk, Marion, Linn and Benton counties

Hank Franzoni, D, and Sen. Gary George, R, are unopposed

House District 17

Includes parts of Marion and Linn counties

Rep. Jeff Kropf, R, vs. Sarah Helen Novy-Arcune (R). There is no Democratic candidate.

House District 19

Includes South Salem, Turner and Aumsville.

Rep. Dan Doyle, R, and Brian Grisham, D, are unopposed

House District 20

Includes South Salem, downtown Salem, West Salem, Independence and Monmouth.

Rep. Vicki Berger, R, and Jeanne E. Deane, D, are unopposed

House District 21

Includes East and Central Salem

Rep. Billy Dalto, R, and Claudia L. Howells, D, are unopposed

Peter Wong can be reached at (503) 399-6745.