Gubernatorial hopefuls dish out promises

Republican gubernatorial candidates Jason Atkinson, Kevin Mannix and Ron Saxton unanimously called for a change in Oregon’s leadership at a debate in the ballroom of the Governor Hotel last Friday.

The issues discussed ranged from education to immigration policy and payday loan ethics. The Portland City Club hosted the debate and a panel posed previously chosen questions.

On school budget issues, Saxton suggested that too many buildings are open in the Portland School District. Money should be spent on the kids, not the buildings, Saxton said. “I favor great schools,” he said. He noted that if the money were spent more efficiently, there would be no need to raise taxes or cut government services. “Do not get trapped,” Saxton said of the options.

The school population is shrinking and families are moving away, Mannix said. He suggested a program called “Teacher Core” to help combat the depleting resources. His program involves having retired teachers volunteer in the classroom in exchange for medical and dental services. Mannix called his proposal a “win-win” situation.

Mannix said that a local initiative for fundraising should be rewarded by allowing each district to keep the money it raises. Atkinson heralded the Chalkboard Project, a nonpartisan group launched in 2004 in an effort to improve Oregon’s public schools.

Given his past experience of working with Christian radio broadcasting, the panel asked Atkinson if he thought creationism should be taught in public schools. The former ski racer said that such issues should be decided on an independent basis within each school district. There was a general consensus toward giving individual schools the power to decide. “I don’t want Big Brother state reaching into our classroom,” Mannix said.

When the panel broached the topic of immigration, all three agreed a change was in store. Saxton emphasized that it is illegal immigration he opposes, asking what good is a democratic system of laws if some are optional. “It doesn’t make sense,” he said.

Atkinson noted that loopholes needed to be closed to prevent state services and funds going to nonresidents and mentioned a guest-worker program. Mannix suggested that the penalties should never exceed incentives to comply with immigration laws.

Opinions varied among the three candidates on introducing a payday loan cap. The City Club panel directed the question at Saxton, asking how he felt about keeping payday loans a free market, no matter how the industry behaves. “Not every problem needs to be solved by the government,” he said, adding that the market works itself out.

Atkinson took a less laissez-faire stand. He would pass a bill that would cap the interest rates of such loans, he said. “Payday loans are usury,” he said. Mannix did not comment on whether he would support such a cap, but posed the question, “Why are people driven to use the loans?” Mannix proposed reaching out and helping people in society and discussing the issues.

None of the candidates supported Oregon adopting an emission standard similar to California’s. Mannix said that there needs to be an Oregon solution, but did not elaborate. Saxton called the law gimmicky and noted the excess cost applying such vehicle standards would incur. It was the market economy, Atkinson said, that prompted Toyota’s production of a hybrid, not California’s emission standards.

In their closing remarks, the candidates encouraged the audience to check out their respective web sites and provided a final note on why they warranted support.

“We can do better,” Saxton said.

“I have a track record of performance,” Mannix said.

“Young enough to dream, experienced enough to deliver,” Atkinson said.