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State Senate Metsger-York race takes negative turn

By RAELYNN RICARTE

News staff writer

September 16, 2006

Sen. Rick Metsger, D-Welches, contends his Republican challenger has made a “false” statement about his political views in the state Voters’ Pamphlet.

He said it is easy to disprove Carol York’s assertion — but the “damage cannot be undone.” Metsger said the 2006 Voter’s Pamphlet is already on its way to military/overseas recipients. And by Oct. 18, the listing of candidates and issues on the Nov. 7 general election ballot will be sent out to his constituents.

“This is far more malicious than something said in a negative campaign mail piece or advertisement,” said Metsger, whose 26th District includes Hood River County. York is a Hood River County commissioner who didn’t seek re-election in order to run against Metsger.

“Voters have come to expect misleading and distorted claims in campaign literature. But they expect the official state voter’s pamphlet, with our state seal on the cover, to be the one document they can trust for honest information.”

At issue is the following statement made by York: “Immigration is a thorny issue and another stark difference between me and my opponent. I support proof of citizenship or legal residency to apply for a driver’s license. He is opposed. Our immigration policy should offer safety and security for all of us.”

On Wednesday York said she had relied on statements about Metsger’s stand from a source that she declined to reveal. She said he was alleged to have held back legislation that addressed the problem while chairing the Senate Transportation and Economic Development Committee in 2003.

“I’ve been told that he killed a bill by not letting it go forward,” York said.

She then asked for more time to research the issue. Later that day, she reported that the defeated legislation was Senate Bill 815 sponsored by Sen. Gary George, R-Newberg. His bill calling for proof of citizenship or legal residency before an immigrant could gain a driver’s license died without being reviewed in Metsger’s committee.

“It was never voted on or given a hearing so I guess it wasn’t a priority,” York said.

Metsger said he is “deeply disappointed and saddened” that York made an accusation against him that is based on “assumptions.”

“It is unusual in the first place for someone to attack an opponent in the voters’ pamphlet. But to make a black- and-white statement based on something that someone told you is just unbelievable,” he said.

Metsger has documentation supporting his longtime belief that a driver’s license should not be issued to anyone but a lawful resident of Oregon.

He said if York had “done her homework” she would have learned that he authored Senate Bill 586 just weeks before George came up with a similar proposal. Metsger said his bill was even more prohibitive because it also required proof of lawful residency before an immigrant could gain an identification card.

The problem, he said, was that only one of six committee members would support the legislation. His bill, like that sponsored by George, fell far short of supporters.

In fact, with severe budget woes facing the state in 2003, Metsger said a House bill containing the same provision also failed. On April 14, 2003, former Rep. Cliff Zauner, R-Woodburn, even said “Let’s get it out of here,” before shipping House Bill 2578 from the Transportation Committee to the Judiciary Committee for its demise.

“You are not a good chairman if you bring up a bill and you don’t have the votes. Just because I wrote one of these bills and supported the others doesn’t mean that people were going to vote for it,” said Metsger.

York said Metsger, as committee chairman, had two chances to pursue a remedy and, instead, he took a pass.

“If he felt stronger about the issue he would have worked harder to get these bills through,” she said. “He did not prevent licenses from going to undocumented applicants.”

Metsger then showed a reporter 10 letters and e-mails traded with constituents about the issue during 2006. In answer to their concerns, he outlined numerous times that “driver’s licenses issued by this state must be issued to only those who are legally qualified to be in this country.”

“I thought this was an important issue almost four years ago when no one wanted to touch it. And I still think it is an important issue today,” he said.

Metsger is now faced with spending $18,000 on a mass mailing to “keep (his) integrity intact by setting the record straight.” He said the problem is that many voters rely heavily on the information provided by the state pamphlet to make election choices. He added that the Secretary of State’s office will not reprint or revise the statewide pamphlet.

Said Metsger, “I could challenge her in court about this but I’m not going to play tit-for-tat. I’m just going to stay focused on the issues and telling people why I’m the best candidate for the job.”

He said four years ago his Republican opponent, Bob Montgomery, launched a spate of negative campaign ads — and he is hopeful that history isn’t repeating itself.

At that time, Metsger was accused in print of voting to pollute drinking water and putting guns in the hands of schoolchildren riding buses.

“Somehow even those hit pieces didn’t stoop to this level. I’ve never had a position assigned to me in the voters’ pamphlet before,” said Metsger, who is seeking a third term in the elected role.

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