A spate of negative campaigning has erupted between two candidates in the State Senate District 26 race — and both contenders wish they didn’t have to go in that direction.
“Comparisons are fine but you should at least be straightforward and not taint the issues,” said Democratic incumbent Sen. Rick Metsger.
“You’ve got to answer these things (ads) back, but I would prefer not to go there,” said Bob Montgomery, his Republican challenger of Cascade Locks.
Montgomery, 66, who was forced by term limits to step down in 2000 after three terms as a State Representative, said this is the first time in his political career that he has directly criticized his opponent. He said that move was made “reluctantly” after Metsger tried to discredit him through a telephone “push poll” between July 9-13. In push polls a candidate outlines a number of negative issues about his/her rival’s political views in an attempt to convince the resident not to cast a ballot for that individual.
However, Metsger, 51, denied that charge and said he only conducted a “baseline research poll” to learn about his own strengths and weaknesses from constituents and the issues they would most like addressed. He has counterattacked Montgomery’s blitz on his “home turf” but has refused to send out any negative mailings in Hood River County where his opponent resides. Metsger is disdainful of Montgomery’s recent mailings that depict him with “grainy” photos and distort his voting record. For example, Metsger said Montgomery has accused him of voting in September’s special session to collect $300 million in new taxes during a recession.
In reality, Metsger said he voted to have citizens decide on a temporary income tax surcharge in January because, without taking that step, Gov. John Kitzhaber’s threat to lay off more than 130 Oregon State Police troopers and slash human service budgets would have become a reality on Oct. 1.
“He’s trying to make me look bad by twisting the truth and I don’t think that will go over very well with the voters,” said Metsger.
However, Montgomery is claiming that Metsger has accused him in print of voting to pollute drinking water and put guns in the hands of schoolchildren riding buses.
“I think anyone on earth who knows me would believe that I support either one of these things,” said Montgomery.
Last summer Metsger replaced Sen. Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, in a state legislative redistricting. The new District 26 extends from the Columbia River in Hood River County to Mt. Hood, along the Sandy River all the way to north Clackamas County. Since last year Metsger has been in the Gorge two to three days per week and said he has worn out three pairs of shoes attending local events and going door-to-door to introduce himself to residents.
“I felt that since I was new to Hood River I needed to find out what the issues were and get to know people’s needs if I was going to be a good representative,” Metsger said.
Montgomery has been criticized in recent weeks for not being as visible as his opponent in the campaign. However, he refuted those allegations and said that he also has been out daily, meeting citizens throughout the district and hearing their concerns. He also denies charges that since he owns a second home in Arizona he will not be available to his constituents during the winter months when he is staying there. Montgomery said he just purchased the vacation dwelling this year and will always be readily accessible by telephone or within a four-hour travel time frame from Oregon.
“Since I’m not the incumbent I haven’t been invited many times to local functions but I always show up when asked,” Montgomery said.
Surprisingly, the two candidates are in strong agreement on several issues. They both believe that the Oregon Legislature needs to make job creation a top priority to overcome the state’s economic woes. Their focus to achieve budget stability differs slightly though, with Montgomery calling for a reduction in government overhead to free up tax dollars and Metsger in strong support of tax breaks that will lure new industries.
“We need state tax incentives that are matched by local counties so that new and expanding businesses are attracted to communities like Hood River that offer an obvious sell,” said Metsger.
Both candidates are also concerned about Hood River Valley’s ailing tree fruit industry and both want to see the state cut the regulatory “red tape” that increases production costs. The two candidates believe the state needs to take a stronger role in developing marketing strategies that raise consumer awareness about the need to support Oregon farmers.
“We do a good job of taking care of farmland in Oregon but we’ve done a terrible job of taking care of the farmers,” said Montgomery.
Both Metsger and Montgomery contend that immediate steps need to be taken to reform the state public employees retirement that is draining the coffers of state agencies.
Montgomery has taken a strong stand to defend public safety by eliminating budget cuts that will put convicted felons back on the street and reduce law enforcement staffing. Metsger is seeking to reform the state tax system to stabilize school funding and make it more impervious to future recessions.
Metsger was elected to the Senate in 1998. Prior to entering public service, he worked as a KOIN-TV journalist for more than 15 years and was a former small business owner and high school teacher. He and his wife, Kay, make their home in Welches.
Montgomery and his wife Deanna have three grown children and six grandchildren. In addition to his three terms as a State Representative, he has many years of public service at both the county and state level, including a position almost six years as manager of the Port of Cascade Locks and almost two years as Hood River County administrator.