Oregon’s Third Senate District encompasses roughly the southern half of Jackson County, from Medford to the California line. It’s also a district that could determine whether the state’s Democratic legislators get the super-majority that would enable them to pass spending measures without Republican votes.
The two candidates for the seat met in a town hall-style forum Thursday night sponsored by Southern Oregon University and Jefferson Public Radio.
Democrat Jeff Golden and Republican Jessica Gomez both seemed eager to show they weren’t simply boosters for their respective parties. Gomez is a political rookie who was, until recently, a Democrat. She introduced herself as “a mom, an entrepreneur and a small business owner.” With her husband, she runs Rogue Valley Microdevices in Medford, which they founded in 2004.
“We had nothing,” she said. “We started with an empty garage and we built a manufacturing company that makes microchips.”
Gomez said that background gives her a practical approach to problem-solving. And she distanced herself from the divisive tone of national party politics.
“I don’t want to see that creeping down in our community,” she said. “It doesn’t belong there. We know how to work together in this community and I really want to be that voice of reason here.”
Golden has lived in the Rogue Valley since the 1970s, as a carpenter, river guide, journalist and author. He served a term as Jackson County Commissioner in the late 1980s. He was a talk show host at JPR for nine years and hosts a long-running public affairs show on Southern Oregon Public TV.
Golden said he supports most of the values typically found in the Democratic Party platform. But he sees the party as having drifted from its traditional support for workers.
“In my view, the Democratic Party needs to cut its ties to corporate America and Wall Street and to really make some changes that will really benefit working people,” he said.
Golden agrees with the idea frequently voiced by Democrats in Salem that the state needs to raise more revenue to invest in education, mental health services, affordable housing and more. But he said his party has to prove it can spend that money effectively.
“And while I really think the Republican Party has really used a lot of demagoguery about “waste, fraud and abuse” as a way to not raise taxes, I fault the Democratic Party for taking it too lightly,” he said. “And when there’s something like the Oracle debacle in Oregon going, just not wanting to talk about it very much.”
Gomez is pro-choice, supports more money for public education and acknowledges the threat of climate change, positions that are at odds with national Republican policies. But she objects to many of the solutions proposed by Democrats. For instance, she’s not impressed by the carbon cap-and-trade proposal under consideration in Salem.
“Cap and trade is really complex. We’re going to spend a lot of money on trying to figure out how to administrate this at the state level,” she said. “I have no confidence our state can actually manage a program that big.”
Golden called that attitude “grossly irresponsible.” While Oregon can’t make a big impact on global carbon emissions by itself, he said …
“What it’s going to do is join a western front with California, Washington and British Columbia, that is taking the mantle of American leadership when Washington, D.C. has dropped it, and ally with the rest of the world to try to save humanity in the next 10, 15, 20 years. And I do not think that’s overstating the case.”
Some of the sharpest differences came when the candidates were asked how they’d vote on the four ballot measures put before Oregon voters this fall.
* Measure 103 would prohibit a sales tax on groceries.
* Measure 104 would amend the state constitution to require a 60 percent vote in the legislature to approve any tax or fee increase.
* Measure 105 would repeal Oregon’s 31-year-old sanctuary state law.
* Measure 106 would amend the constitution to prevent tax money from being spent on abortions.
Gomez said she supports all except the sanctuary state measure. On the abortion measure she said …
“There are plenty of options for women who are less fortunate and I support those options but I think using our tax dollars in this way is inappropriate.”
“The bottom line is, if 106 passes, we are saying women of certain economic means have full reproductive rights, and women who don’t have those means, don’t.”
Golden said he’d vote against all four measures.
The Third District seat was held for 12 years by Democrat Alan Bates until his death in 2016. He was succeeded by Republican Alan DeBoer, who chose not to seek re-election.
But while both candidates this year are soft-pedaling their party affiliation, the winner could have a decisive impact on how party power is wielded in Salem next year.