The campaign for the House District 52 seat has been congenial to date —- and that’s the way both contenders want it to stay.
“This has been a very positive issue-oriented campaign and that’s the way it should be, people don’t want bickering they want results,” said Rep. Patti Smith, R-Corbett.
Her Democratic rival, Larry Cramblett of Cascade Locks, agrees.
“It’s been comfortable because, basically, we’re just staying with the issues,” said Cramblett.
That doesn’t mean the two candidates share the same views for fixing the state’s economic woes. Smith believes that her two years of experience will most benefit citizens because she has already navigated the steep learning curve. Cramblett contends that he can bring a fresh perspective to the complexities of managing state government.
“The experience I have gained by serving in a regular session and five special sessions will serve our district well,” Smith, 55, said.
“We need to open up our eyes, open our thoughts to take a look at our priorities and come up with some new ideas,” said Cramblett, 51.
Both Cramblett and Smith are drawing from the troubled Public Employees Retirement System, but Smith is boldly proposing that all legislators forfeit that funding and bring labor representatives and the governor to the table to find a solution to the growing problem. Cramblett is distrustful that the advertised $8.4 billion deficit in the program is accurately calculated and wants to investigate the issue further before recommending any changes.
“If we fix it right we do the right thing by everyone — taxpayers and retirees,” said Smith.
No matter how troubled PERS is, Cramblett, a retired school teacher, thinks immediate action needs to be taken to secure school funding by removing education revenue from the general fund and placing it into a dedicated account. He is willing to consider a sales tax if necessary to accomplish that goal, although he wants to form a panel of experts to review how to best spend school dollars.
“We need to make kids the first priority and look at the overall tax package,” he said.
Smith wants to hold the line on taxes in a troubled economy but agrees with Cramblett that both children and senior citizens need to be spared from budget cuts. She said the best methodology for stabilizing programs for these populations is to revitalize the state’s private business base.
“We must protect our schools and we can do that by stimulating our economy with more family wage jobs,” said Smith, who serves on the House Task Force on Jobs and Economy.
Cramblett also supports state action to attract new industries and businesses, but wants to focus on “environmentally friendly” firms that protect Oregon’s high quality of life.
“I would like to be able to evaluate what we have and decide what Oregonians want,” said Cramblett, who wants to have a liaison in place that will help entrepreneurs through the regulatory system.
Smith wants to cut the bureaucratic burden that is making ownership of smaller businesses more costly and difficult to manage but Cramblett is hesitant to lift regulations that he believes have protected the scenic beauty of the state.
“We still want to to keep that pristine look that has made Oregon special,” said Cramblett.
The two candidates are joined in their support of the agriculture industry and both want to promote “Buy Oregon” labeling on fruits and vegetables and use of homegrown fruits and vegetables by public institutions. They also strongly applaud the expansion of “value added” product lines.
“Our agriculture economy is vital to this district so that makes it a priority for me,” said Smith.
They also agree that the state government’s spending habits need to be curbed and operations streamlined to prevent the duplication of services and an undue burden being placed on taxpayers.
“I’ve learned in the past two years that there are a lot more complex issues involved in state government than anyone can imagine so it takes a lot of listening and willingness to work through the issues,” said Smith.
She said a good example of that leadership was the outcome of last week’s Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act hearings. According to Smith, who co-chaired the Oregon legislative oversight panel, the 16-hour discussion appears to have a pro-active result. She said the Gorge Commission is now working with legislators to iron out many of the problems that have plagued the Mid-Columbia since the NSA became law in 1986. That is especially important, said Smith, since the four Gorge counties with the largest Scenic Area holdings have the highest unemployment rates in their respective states.
“I think by solving the economic development problem in the Gorge we will eliminate a lot of the really contentious issues,” said Smith, who wants to work closely Oregon federal legislators Rep. Greg Walden, Sen. Ron Wyden and Sen. Gorden Smith toward that goal.
Improving the state’s transportation system to attract more commerce also heads Smith’s “to do” list and she plans to seek a role on the House Transportation Committee if re-elected to help solve growing pains on Interstate 84, Highway 26 and the Historic Columbia River Highway.
“We are in a difficult recession, there are difficult decisions to make and I am confident that, under new leadership, we will be able to make them,” she said.
Cramblett said he hasn’t yet developed any hard ideas about Oregon’s future but has spent the past six years traveling to Salem to lobby issues on behalf of Cascade Locks and children. He believes the state’s current budget woes can be overcome if legislators are willing to sit down in a bi-partisan effort to prioritize programs and cut unnecessary expenditures.
“I think Oregon can be very prosperous, I think we need to be incorporate new ideas from other states and be open to new ideas,” said Cramblett.
He referred to the state as a “house” and said children should be considered the foundation and senior citizens the roof — which is in danger of falling in because of the high cost of health care and prescription drugs. Cramblett wants to take a strong role in reforming the total “medical package” to make it more affordable, especially to the elderly who are on fixed incomes.
“It is a tough time to be in Salem and some major decisions are going to have to be made for Oregon and we’re going to have to make some tough calls,” he said.
Smith and Cramblett grew up in the Gorge and have been actively involved in their respective communities. She and husband, Leroy, have five grown children. He and wife, Bettie, have three adult children.
“You don’t do this job for the money ($1,287 monthly), you do it for your communities and the opportunity to represent them well,” Smith said.