Keeping up with the ideas thrown out by Jack Roberts, Republican candidate for governor, is like trying to count bullets out of a machine gun.
“He’s the fastest talker I know of, next to Neil Goldschmidt,” said Clayton Hering, chairman of Roberts’ finance committee. Roberts breezed through a brisk half hour of questioning on campus Tuesday. He never hesitated to tackle any subject thrown at him, from free trade agreements to Indian casinos.
Roberts was reelected to a second term as Oregon Commissioner of Labor in 1998. He had previously served as a Lane County Commissioner since 1989.
The linchpin of the Eugene candidate’s campaign is his promise to boost the Oregon economy out of its doldrums. A brochure outlining his economic agenda declares his first priority to be “control government spending and restore fiscal discipline to state government.” Some key items include balancing the state budget without raising taxes, reducing capital gains taxes and creating tax incentives for business in various areas.
In his interview with the Vanguard, he said, “We have to start by creating the right kind of tax environment a lot of people want to be in. That includes spending overall by the state under control but prioritizing spending in the areas that have the biggest boost for our economy.”
To him that includes education, K through 12 as well as higher education. Other priorities are transportation, public safety, “the things that people care about (the quality of life), but also things that are important when you’re trying to get businesses to come here, stay here and expand.”
In a message obviously tailored to his campus audience, he declared that “there’s a huge role for Portland State to continue to play as an engine for the economic strength of the region.” He wants adequate funding for higher education.
“What we want to do in our economic agenda is try to look at the broad range of how we help the economy as a whole to come back.”
Roberts had no hesitation in declaring, “Clearly, I’m for free trade. That is the wave of the future.” Although free trade agreements are negotiated by the federal government, not state governors, he wants “to make sure that when they’re negotiating those agreements in the future that our voice be heard about how it affects Oregon industries.”
He believes what is hurting some Oregon agricultural products is not necessarily the agreements but an overvalued dollar compared to the rest of the world.
“It acts like a reverse tariff on everything we try to sell and it subsidizes things that are imported.” He sees this as a result of collapsed offshore economies, particularly in the Pacific Rim. He believes we have a stake in their economic recovery.
“Free trade is the way for all of the world to do better and I’m strongly supportive of that. But as we negotiate those agreements, we need a governor who’s a strong voice for our industries and the needs of our industries to make sure we’re not taken advantage of in agreements that don’t adequately reflect the reality of the terms of that trade.”
He declared himself sensitive to issues that have been raised about free trade “but we’re not going to put the genie back in the bottle. Free trade is here to stay. We need to make sure we’re in a position to compete fairly but to compete successfully in an open market.”
He considered the fact that some Portland State students maintain an active interest in farm worker treatment. “I won’t say that all farm workers are treated ideally but Oregon has the most protective laws in the country.”
He blamed the PCUN farm workers union for “misrepresenting the conditions of farm workers in this state in a slanderous way.” This, he said, is a union attempt to coerce Norpac food processors through a secondary boycott. Pointing out that Norpac is a union operation, he accused PCUN of “trying to force them to compel the growers who sell to them to force their workers to belong to a union.”
He criticized Governor John Kitzhaber for vetoing a legislative bill that he said would have added agricultural workers to Oregon’s collective bargaining law and given workers the same rights and same protection in organizing and forming a union. He castigated PCUN and “the so-called farm worker advocates because they want to force workers to join the union whether they want to or not and take away their right to vote or whether or not they have a union. I think that’s disgraceful.”
He predicted “if they continue to pursue that, (it) could destroy the agricultural industry in Oregon, a major component of it. They’re hanging on by their fingernails now because of international trade conditions and the like.” He continued, “I know a lot of people feel very strongly about it. I wish they’d get the facts and see what the real information is because we are on a collision course with disaster in this state for no good reason.”
He didn’t hesitate to comment on the issue of an Indian casino in the Columbia Gorge. He said since Governor Kitzhaber wants to stop a casino in the gorge, the Grand Ronde tribal confederation may legally be able to force one at Hood River, which is not the tribes’ first choice. He saw the Columbia Gorge as one area of the state which needs economic development and assistance. He made no guarantees of what he would do as governor. However, he said, “I would certainly look much more favorably at the opportunity for a casino at the Columbia Gorge for the reasons of the economic development of the region because I think it’s better than forcing one at Hood River.”
The Oregon Health Plan, a concern of many PSU students, drew some of Roberts’ comments. He said he supported the original design of the plan. He described this as “based on the money we spend for health care for the indigent should be used to cover as many people as possible for their most critical health care needs, rather than cover the poorest of the poor for everything and other poor people for nothing.”
He criticized Governor Kitzhaber for vetoing a bill that would have marked Health Plan prescriptions with a code to tell what health condition is being treated. He said the governor vetoed the bill on the grounds it was an invasion of privacy.
“We’ve had to cover more people for more pay. Consequently, particularly as health care costs generally are going up, it’s starting to break the bank. We cannot continue to go down this path. I want to restore some management. We need to have some accountability.”
Roberts said he is pro-choice but opposed to partial birth abortion. He called it a “heinous procedure and even the American Medical Association said there’s no real medical reason to perform one.” He believes in the case of minors, parents should be informed but said, “That’s not the same as parental consent.” He believes women contemplating abortion should have access to information to help them make an informed decision but “not subject to a propaganda speech.”
He was asked to comment on the proposal of another candidate to raise taxes on cigarettes and alcohol. He said he does not favor tax increases now but will not take a pledge that there would be never be tax increases. He said he supported the last cigarette tax increase to help support the Oregon Health Plan, an increase that was related to the tax.
“I don’t think we should raise taxes during a recession.” He pointed out the tax doesn’t fall on the tobacco companies but on smokers. “It’s taking money out of the pockets of consumers.”
“I’m not taking a pledge never to raise taxes but Oregon has the eighth highest spending per capita … of any state.” He believes we don’t have a spending problem in terms of the important priorities, but in “where we are spending that money and how we are spending it. We need a manager as well as a leader in the governor’s office. That’s what I’ll do.”