Oregon’s sprawling Second Congressional District is the size of Missouri and encompasses roughly the eastern two-thirds of the state. Greg Walden -- the only Republican in Oregon’s delegation -- has represented the district since 1999, and has routinely been re-elected by huge majorities.
This year, seven Democrats are competing for the chance to unseat Walden in the fall.
More than 200 people crowded into the Rogue River Room at Southern Oregon University in late January to hear from six of the seven Democratic candidates for the Second District seat. And it became clear pretty quickly that there wasn’t a lot of daylight between them on most policy issues.
Should the Trump Administration rules repealing net neutrality be overturned?
Eric Burnette, Jamie McLeod-Skinner, Jim Crary, Tim White, Jenni Neahring and Michael Byrne agreed they should. The candidates were similarly in agreement in their support for the so-called “Dreamers,’ immigrants who were brought illegally to the US when they were children.
From universal health care (they’re for it) to the Trump tax cut (they’re against it) to the Jordan Cove pipeline project in southern Oregon (also against), the Democrats trying to oust Greg Walden were pretty much on the same page.
Other issues -- such as forest management, gun control and the prospect of impeaching President Trump -- elicited more nuanced responses, with degrees of difference between the candidates. Where they tried most to differentiate themselves was in their priorities, and their biographies …
Jim Crary lives near Ashland. He ran against Walden in 2016, getting just 28 percent of the vote. He says his top issue is campaign finance reform.
"I want public financing of elections," he says. "I want people that get elected to Congress to start representing their constituents, not their contributors."
Jamie McLeod-Skinner graduated from Ashland High School and lives north of Bend. She’s the only Democrat in the race with previous experience in elected office, having served two terms on the city council in Santa Clara, California. She says her willingness to listen to people in the Second District is key.
"That’s why I’ve spent the past seven months, traveling the district, ear to the ground, listening and developing relationships with folks who we’ll need to win not just the primary, but the general election, as well," she says.
Eric Burnette lives in Hood River, just blocks away from Greg Walden. He graduated from the California Maritime Academy and has spent 30 years in the maritime industry. He says the recent GOP tax law is an effort to bribe working people with bread crumbs. The middle class doesn’t need a tax cut, he says; it needs a raise.
"I would like to see 'inflation plus three,'" he says. "If we can increase middle class, working family wages by three percent per annum over ten years, we’re at $67,000. "That’s a major difference. That’s what I’m running on.”
Tim White lives in Bend. After getting his MBA, White went to work for Chrysler. He says that during a 30-year career, he was responsible for turning around several money-losing Chrysler divisions, including some overseas.
White says Eastern and Central Oregon are suffering the effects of economic isolation and could use an experienced turn-around artist.
"What do we do to open up this district to bring the jobs back, so that our youths don’t have to leave, they don’t have to go up to Portland to get a job?" he asks.
Among White’s suggestions is improved infrastructure, including new highways linking Central Oregon to the I-5 corridor.
Bend resident Jenni Neahring says during her three decades in medicine, she’s learned about service to the community.
"I love being a doctor," she says. "When you see your doctor, you expect and trust that they are going to work for you and your best interests. And that’s what I’ve done throughout my career and that’s what I want to do for you in Congress."
Neahring says health care accounts for a quarter of federal spending, so getting health care costs under control is crucial to being able to afford other government services.
Mike Byrne is a union stone mason in Hood River. He says he can beat Greg Walden because he’s like a lot of people in the Second District.
"The fact that I’m working class," he says. "The fact that I rent a house. The fact that my children went to school on Pell grants. The fact that I’ve lived most of my life without health insurance. I’m the messenger that can relate to the people in District Two."
The other Democrat in the race wasn’t at the forum at SOU. Raz Mason grew up in eastern Oregon and lives in The Dalles. She’s a high school teacher and clinical chaplain with a Masters in Divinity from Harvard.
In a video on her website, Mason stresses the value of making decisions with calmness and courage, rather getting caught in divisiveness and reactivity.
"Because so much is at stake today, it’s absolutely essential that our decisions are the absolute best they can be. Today in our country, it’s all hands on deck. We need everyone’s best thinking."
Mason supports universal health care, higher taxes on the wealthy and planning for the social and economic disruptions likely to be caused by climate change.
One final point of unanimity among the Democratic challengers; they all agree to support whoever among them wins the May 15 primary and ends up running against Greg Walden.
For more information, visit the candidates' websites:
Raz Masonhttps://voteraz.com/ Eric Burnettehttps://burnette4congress.org/ Michael Byrnehttps://www.facebook.com/congressmanbyrne/ Jim Craryhttps://crary4congress.com/ Jamie McLeod-Skinnerhttps://jamiefororegon.com/ Jenni Neahring MDhttps://drjennineahringforcongress.com/ Tim Whitehttp://timwhiteoregoncd2.com/