Ordinarily, a newcomer to state politics would not have the advantages in a crowded race that Dallas Republican Jim Thompson enjoys in his primary bid in Oregon House District 23.
Thompson has four listed opponents, all from Polk County.
However, the most politically seasoned, former congressional candidate Brian Boquist, has raised only $400 and spent it all, according to the latest finance reports filed in Salem. And the other three, Cheryl Lentsch, Jim Welsh and Jackie Lawson, have filed paperwork with state elections officials indicating that they don’t plan to spend more than $2,000 – a pittance in a competitive legislative race.
Meanwhile, the retired pharmaceutical executive has raised more than $12,000. More importantly, he is running as the incumbent, thanks to his recent appointment over his four rivals.
The filing deadline for the May primary came around before a decision was made on the appointment, so all five had to file in case they got the nod. When it went to Thompson, the others apparently lost interest in mounting serious election bids.
Thompson replaces moderate Republican Lane Shetterly, a popular legislative veteran named by the governor to head the state Department of Land Conservation and Development.
Shetterly’s vote for a tax increase package that voters trounced in February put him in the doghouse with Thompson, who previously had counted himself a supporter.
“He went too far,” Thompson said. “He was a major supporter of Measure 30, and I didn’t think that fit with the district well.”
A native Oregonian and a longtime resident of Polk County, Thompson was raised on the Oregon Coast. The family was Republican and active in local civic affairs.
His mother worked in retail and his father served as local postmaster. He worked with the state to launch the area’s first hunter safety program for youth.
As a high school student, Thompson got his first taste of politics, joining Lincoln County Youth for Goldwater, the Republican firebrand from Arizona who ran for president in 1964 against Lyndon Johnson.
An interest in biology led Thompson to study botany.
After getting his bachelor’s from Oregon College of Education, now Western Oregon University, he was doing graduate work at Oregon State when he was hired by a Bayer subsidiary to do allergy immunology work in a new lab in Monmouth. He ended up spending his career with the company
He met his wife, who has taught junior high school in Salem for 30 years, and they raised two children. In the 1980s, he served on the Monmouth City Council and a rural fire board.
Thompson enjoys endorsements from Sen. Gary George, R-Newberg, and several anti-tax groups, including Citizens for a Sound Economy, which led the campaign against Measure 30.
He presents himself as “a no-tax candidate” and counts economic development as his biggest priority. “That drives everything,” he said.
Thompson said Ted Kulongoski’s efforts to attract new business to the state have been lackluster, although he doesn’t “doubt the sincerity of his efforts.” The state hasn’t been much better, he said.
“I’m not a fan of the Oregon Department of Economic Development,” he said. “You could probably count the number of jobs they’ve created in two years on one hand. They have a lot of programs and they go to a lot of meetings, but they’re not creating jobs.”
Thompson said holding the line on taxes and spending, and getting “regulatory nonsense” out of the private sector’s way is the best way to enhance tax revenue.
The debates over spending levels on public services in previous legislatures are, for the present, a thing of the past, he said. With voters’ anti-tax sentiments reflected in the vote on Measure 30 and the economy in the dumps, he said, lawmakers are forced to make do with the resources at hand.
Thompson’s call for streamlining regulations also applies to state land use laws.
“We have got to change it,” he said. “We’ve got too much control. It’s killing us.”
He said efforts should be made to ease controls on building and redevelopment inside urban growth boundaries if it’s cost-effective, while also protecting high-value farmland.
“We’re in such a mobile economy,” he said. “The money we want to attract can go any number of places and we want it to come here.”
Although some lawmakers are loath to get bogged down in a debate over gay marriage in a special session scheduled this summer, Thompson echoes House Speaker Karen Minnis’ suggestion that consideration of the incendiary issue might be necessary.
Advances in civil rights for gay people, he said, were progressing at a reasonable pace until Multnomah County’s closed-door decision to permit same-sex marriages “set that movement back 10 years.”
He said, “We need a concise marriage law. We have to make some decisions, because it’s in the public forum. It’s probably not the time to define marriage as an agreement between anybody.”
He also would like to see the Legislature adopt a spending cap referral measure during their upcoming special session. That’s an idea that has stirred great controversy and criticism in Colorado, but is gaining legs in the state’s conservative circles.
“They’re not bad people,” he said of public officials. “But they will spend every dollar that’s put in front of them.”