BAKER CITY - In their first public appearance together, the two candidates for Congress from Oregon's 2nd Congressional District faced off Aug. 5 in a debate.
Democrat John McColgan, a Talent building contractor, challenged U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, on Aug. 3. Walden, who is in his third term, consented to have McColgan join him in what was to have been a congressional update before members and guests of Baker County Unlimited, the combined chamber of commerce and visitors' bureau. About 75 attended the luncheon at the Sunridge Inn.
"It's great that we were able to pull this together at the last minute," McColgan said, beginning his opening remarks. He noted that he is not running against Walden as much as he's challenging the administration of George W. Bush.
"I believe it's the most important election of our lifetime," he said.
McColgan criticized the Patriot Act, saying it was "an overreaction to an emergency situation" and that it jeopardized a number of Americans' basic rights. He also criticized America's involvement in Iraq, saying it has "fanned the flames of terrorism in the Middle East."
On the home front, McColgan said Americans' average income has fallen two consecutive years during the Bush administration, the first time that's happened since 1953.
"What we face is an enormous challenge," he said, "but what we have is an enormous opportunity."
Walden used his opening remarks to review his efforts on behalf of his 2nd District constituents during the past five and a half years. He led off with the Healthy Forest Restoration Act, which changed federal policies to help prevent wildfires. Now, he said, he's working on legislation to improve forests after fire has ravaged them.
The Congressman said he's working to change the Endangered Species Act so "peer-review science" can be employed before decisions are made that affect livelihoods, such as what happened in the Klamath Basin when irrigation canals were ordered closed because of the threat to an endangered fish.
Looking ahead, Walden said work still needs to be done to improve the economy and improve access to health care.
"We've got a lot more work to do," he said.
Moderator Jim Van Duyn asked each candidate four questions developed by the BCU board. The questions involved:
Improving livability in the 2nd District.
Changing federal requirements regarding resource-based industries and public lands.
Managing the federal deficit and debt.
Lessening the demands on soldiers and limiting the burdens on their families and communities.
Regarding livability, Walden went right back to health care, saying there's a need for improved access to nurses' training. He also noted changes in federal tax policies would provide incentives for small businesses, which would help to create jobs.
McColgan agreed that improving health care is important, but recommended looking at the long term and trying to develop some public-private partnerships. With health care costs escalating, he said, and many people without health insurance, the nation needs a comprehensive health care plan.
Specifically, McColgan recommended changes in the payroll tax that would give a tax break to self-employed people and eliminate the tax cap for those who earn more than $87,500. He also recommended using federal funding to develop better Internet and cellular phone access in rural areas.
"The government needs to get involved to make access easier," he said, "just as government does for roads."
Turning to the federal lands question, McColgan said he's concerned about changes made by the Bush administration that would allow states to manage roadless areas. Some "more conservative states, like Idaho" might allow logging in roadless areas, he predicted.
"The overall goal should be long-term stewardship," he said, which should include policies against clear-cutting, but for sustainable yields and selective harvesting.
Walden pointed out that 13 lumber mills have closed in the 2nd District in the past 12 years.
"We've got to change federal policy," he said, noting that under current law, mills have closed, the forests are choked with unharvested timber and lumber is being imported. "We can have timber production and healthy forests again."
Walden also said it's imperative to prevent the sage grouse from being listed as endangered because such a designation would be even more devastating than the listing of the northern spotted owl.
Addressing the question about the federal deficit, Walden said the response to Sept. 11, 2001, was the major factor that has driven spending over revenue, but he also noted that even with tax rates reduced, income tax receipts are increasing because the economy has turned the corner and more people are working.
"Raising taxes wrecks the economy, in my opinion," Walden said. "We need to grow the economy. Growing government doesn't get it done."
McColgan countered that President Bill Clinton raised taxes "and the economy got better."
He called the Republicans' plan to privatize Social Security a "dangerous proposal," and said it would be "mortgaging our children's future and our grandchildren's future." McColgan also charged that discretionary domestic spending has risen in the Bush administration largely because of "corporate welfare," instead of basic services for Americans.
Regarding the military question, McColgan called the policy of calling up the National Guard to fight in Iraq a "back-door draft." He maintained the lack of volunteers for the armed services demonstrated that most Americans do not support our involvement in the Middle East. He said the country would be better off if the National Guard troops came home where they could be available to fight forest fires and for other disaster relief.
"Iraq is a no-win situation," McColgan said. "We have gotten ourselves in a very large mess. We've got to withdraw from that mess. I'd rather see our soldiers home where they belong."
Walden said the soldiers he's met and talked with were volunteers, and they were proud to serve.
"We all need to pull together to support these families," he said. "These people are proud to be doing what they're doing, where ever it occurs. We're making progress in the world on the war on terror. You don't have Saddam Hussein giving families of suicide bombers $25,000 any more."