Subscribe to get tough, fair journalism seven days a week.
Subscribe today

Congressional candidates debate

From left to right: Kurt Schrader, Scott Bruun, Chris Lugo

For the Keizertimes

SALEM — Each of three candidates for the 5 th District U.S. House seat from Oregon told the Salem City club Friday why he thought he should be elected.

Rep. Kurt Schrader, the first-term Democratic incumbent; Scott Bruun, the District 37 Republican state representative; and Chris Lugo, the nominee of the Pacific Green Party, made statements and took questions in what is expected to be the only joint appearance of all three in the campaign.

Lugo, making the first opening statement, said, “I believe it is time for the citizens of Oregon to have someone who represents Oregon.”  Calling military action in Afghanistan a disgrace to the United States, he said, “It is time to turn away from the policies of greed and fear.”

Schrader opened by saying, “I ran because I was very, very discouraged about the direction of our country.”

Declaring that “America is looking for new leadership,” he told the gathering at the Mission Mill Museum that he had been leading the way toward economic recovery for Oregon. He said that he had been involved in the rebuilding of the Oregon National Guard Armory in Salem and the relocation of the National Oceanic and Aeronautic Administration (NOAA) fleet to the Newport area.

“I’m a small businessman; I’m focused on small business,” he said. He told the audience that the House Budget Committee, of which he is a member, has helped keep money in the pockets of small business people, largely by enabling the Small Business Administration to increase lending.

“We’ve been watching the red ink,” Schrader said, noting that he had voted against the bank bailout.  He added that his office had returned more than $1.5 billion to Oregonians.

Bruun, calling himself a fifth-generation Oregonian and “a businessman who knows how jobs are created, said he had been an effective minority-party legislator by knowing how to cross party lines.

“You look to Washington, DC,” he said, “and you see an ineffective Congress.”

Saying Congress has “duct-taped” the budget because the majority does not want the country to see the red ink, Bruun cited population and national-debt figures to claim that the debt is growing by $13 a day for each United States citizen.

He quoted a comment in US News & World Report that the current Congress is the least effective one in history, and he said that one-fifth of Oregonians are unemployed or underemployed.

The first question from the audience followed: Do you favor allowing tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans to lapse?

Schrader, noting that more tax breaks that the ones for the wealthiest taxpayers are scheduled to expire, said, “We’ve got to figure a balanced approach.”

Bruun responded that the tax-break sunset would add $4 trillion in taxes over the next 10 years, and that the present economic troubles make it a bad time to raise taxes. He added that federal taxes are too complex and that the way to revive the economy is to empower the private sector.

Lugo said the current tax system gives unfair advantages to corporations and wealthy individuals. He declared that the lower class is “getting poorer and poorer every year” and called progressive taxation “the only real solution.”

More candidate statements followed, with Bruun the first to speak. He called the 2010 election “the most important of our lifetime” and asked, “Are we going to validate the path we’re on, or do you believe we’re on a wrong course?”

Lugo, describing greenhouse gas warming as “out of control,” called for more attention to energy alternatives and to the country’s forests and ecosystems.

Schrader, repeating his opposition to bailouts, said the current unemployment rate would be two to three percentage points higher than it is without the recovery measures Congress has approved. He charged that Bruun was seeking to privatize Social Security.

Questions from the floor resumed. The first was what specific expenditures each candidate would like to discontinue.

Schrader said that it was time to bring Americans home from Afghanistan, and that he had helped pass a weapons procurement bill that had saved billions. He also said growth of entitlements should be restrained.

Bruun, saying that he was calling for putting “options on the table” rather than definitely calling for Social Security privatization, called the federal budget “an absolute disaster.” He urged freezing discretionary spending except for health matters and defense, and he called for applying the “yellow page test” to stop government competition with private enterprise.

Lugo urged reducing the military-industrial complex and revising the federal prison system. He said United States is second to China in incarcerations.

The next question was whether middle-income Americans would be willing to give up tax breaks.

Bruun noted that the prime minister of Singapore had said he “loved President Barack Obama” because American tax policies were moving jobs to Singapore.  He said high taxes had held back work, savings and investments in the United States by moving business overseas.

Schrader said Republicans had caused economic problems by repealing pay-as-you-go legislation.

Lugo had no response.

The next question was whether each candidate considered home ownership “a true core value.”

Calling it “a fundamental right,” Lugo said that America had been treating it as a commodity and that “if you work a 40-hour week, you should be able to own a home at some point.”

“It’s a core value,” Schrader said, “if you can afford it.” He said the financial reform bill he supported addressed the problem of leading people into buying what they could not afford.

Bruun called it a fundamental value but said the housing agencies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac had made it too easy to buy houses, leaving buyers unable to pay.

The final question, addressing the plans to close Guantanamo Bay, was how each candidate would balance the concerns of the war on terror with those of a prisoner’s rights.

Bruun said “a clear-headed analysis” was needed. He said that as war prisoners, the people at Guantanamo did not have the legal protections of civil prisoners, and the United States needed more “security clarity.”

Lugo called for closing Guantanamo and either trying the prisoners or sending them home. He said Guantanamo belonged to Cuba, not to the United States.

Saying the war on terror must continue, Schrader said Guantanamo was part of  “a false strategy” of encouraging torture.