PORTLAND, Ore. -- The three leading Democrats in the race to replace David Wu met for a live televised debate at KGW Studios on Tuesday night.
The candidates debated jobs, social security and medicare, deregulation and the Columbia River crossing project.
KGW political analyst Len Bergstein characterized the debate as civil. "No big surprises, no big knockout blows, an excellent debate in terms of the issues," he said.
State Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian said he would kick-start the economy by lobbying for a 21st-century WPA program and a big investment in infrastructure across the country. Rep. Brad Witt said he would push to renegotiate every one of the major free trade agreements, saying they failed to address the needs of U.S. workers. Sen. Bonamici said she would evaluate any trade agreement based on how it affected 1st District workers: "If a trade agreement will bring jobs to the 1st District, it's a good trade agreement. If it doesn't, I won't support it."
All three candidates said they thought the "Occupy Wall Street" movement was a positive one. "I was down there, marching with them," said Avakian. "I am glad to live in a country with free speech rights," added Bonamici.
Avakian took a strong stand on Social Security reform, saying he would fight to halt discussions about privatizing the system and would lobby to "keep America's promise" that social security funds would be there when people needed them.
On Medicare solvency, Witt said he would renegotiate the arrangement for prescription drugs to overturn the practice of reimbursing full retail price, as a step that would go a long way to restoring solvency to the system. Bonamici also expressed support for renegotiating prescription drug pricing, adding that she wanted to see a crackdown on Medicare fraud.
The candidates had a lively discussion of marijuana policy. Rep. Witt said he would decriminalize marijuana, then regulate it and use it as a revenue source. Sen. Bonamici called for an end to the federal prohibition on growing industrial hemp. "Talk about jobs - we have a crop right now that we could grow in Oregon as soon as the federal Government says we can," said Bonamici. Avakian expressed his frustration over federal interference in Oregon law: "The State of Oregon ought to have the autonomy to chart its own course. I don’t like the idea of the federal government telling us how to enforce our own laws."
Several of the candidates were critical of charter schools. Bonamici said "charter schools need accountability. Innovation should be available to all, not just those who attend charter schools." Avakian added his concern that "charter schools suck money from other schools," are run by people not publicly elected and, if the money runs out, "the kids are left with nothing."
The candidates also weighed in on the $3 billion Columbia River Crossing plan. All agreed the project was a priority, but they disagreed about where it ranked on the to-do list. "Our area is in desperate need for a better way to move commerce across the Interstate Bridge," said Witt in emphasizing his support. Both Bonamici and Avakian stressed that other roads and bridges also needed attention, and that the state needed an overhaul of its electrical grid.
Brad Avakian also responded to a question about a lien and other late personal debts, saying "There were times when Debbie and I struggled. But we paid every debt that we had. A lot of families in Oregon are struggling. I know what it feels like to be in that position."
U.S. overseas military involvement drew some of the strongest statements from candidates. Rep. Witt said troops needed to be brought home in a way that would stabilize the countries we fought to liberate. Sen. Bonamici also said troops should be brought home "when it makes sense to withdraw them," adding that we needed to have jobs here when we bring them home. However, Labor Commissionar Avakian took a strong stand, saying: "When I say I want the troops home, now...I do mean now." He later added that troops should be brought home from Afghanistan and Iraq before U.S. forces are sent to a conflict in another country.
The debate, co-sponsored by The Oregonian and KGW Newschannel 8, was broadcast live on KGW and streamed live on kgw.com and on oregonlive.com.
This debate was the only chance for First District voters to watch a live, televised debate between the three.
The debate was moderated by Newschannel 8 anchor Tracy Barry and included questioning from Jeff Mapes, the senior political reporter for The Oregonian, and from Laural Porter, KGW anchor and host of the current affairs show, Straight Talk. Candidates also answered questions from the public posted on the KGW Facebook page and The Oregonian Facebook page.
David Wu resigned his seat in Congress this summer after a series of controversies over his conduct.
More than 800,000 people live in Oregon’s First Congressional District. It is currently the only congressional district in the United States without a representative in Congress.