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Candidate roundtable:

State House District 56

Candidates say jobs are the top priority

Republican candidates say more business is the best way to improve the economy
Herald and News 3/30/12 by SAMANTHA TIPLER
Both Tracey Liskey and Gail Whitsett named jobs as their top priority as they vie to represent District 56 in the Oregon State House.

“Business pays the bills,” said Liskey, a third-generation Klamath Basin farmer. “The only way we improve our economy is by bringing more business in.”

Both candidates seeking the Republican ticket advocated for repealing or adjusting some state taxes during a roundtable discussion at the Herald and News Wednesday.

In addition to addressing taxes, Gail Whitsett said she would like to see regional or local control over land-use decisions. A rural viewpoint from the Klamath Basin would be different than an urban perspective on where and how to allow business to grow.

“What fits in Portland doesn’t always fit in Klamath Falls,” Whitsett said.

Heather Tramp, program and marketing director with the Klamath County Chamber of Commerce, asked for the Q: candidates’ thoughts on converting Highway 97 to a four-lane highway.

Liskey: He supports expanding Highway 97 to four lanes, as well as other economic development initiatives, to create a comprehensive economic plan. He said as a farmer and businessman, he knows how important jobs are, especially on a rural scale. He referenced data centers coming to other Oregon counties, providing only 55 new jobs. “But 55 jobs in Lakeview would be huge,” he said. “If we can bring something into those kinds of counties, three or four jobs are like 300 jobs in Portland.”
He also supported improvements to Highway 140.

Whitsett: She said she likes the idea of expanding Highway 97, but noted potential problems, including a $12 billion price tag and acquiring rights of way. Whitsett said $50 million has been spent on Highway 97 within the boundaries of Klamath County in the last eight years. She said $100 million has been spent on Highway 140 on the curves near Bly Mountain. Whitsett also supported improving Highway 140 near the Doherty slide area to keep trucks from detouring to Reno.

Both also were asked about the relationship between taxes and businesses bringing jobs to the Klamath Basin.

Whitsett: She said she would work to repeal or lower state taxes. Whitsett said she wants to repeal the estate, or inheritance, tax, which she called a double tax on business and Oregonians. She also wants to scale back capital gains and income taxes.

She is hopeful about a regional land use plan Josephine, Jackson and Douglas counties are working on which may allow more local control. She said this could be an opportunity for the Klamath area, allowing local control over where businesses would be placed.

“What fits in Portland doesn’t always fit in Klamath Falls,” she said.

Liskey: He agreed with many of Whitsett’s views on taxes, including scaling back capital gains taxes and repealing estate taxes. He said Oregon’s taxes make it unfriendly to businesses. He also said he wanted to reform Measures 66 and 67.

Oregonians approved Measures 66 and 67 in a special election in January 2010. Measure 66 raised income taxes on the top 3 percent of taxpayers and Measure 67 increased business taxes. The tax hikes hit businesses making more than $250,000 and individuals earning more than $125,000.

Supporters of the measures touted them as ways to fund schools, but opponents said they drove away business from the state. Both tax increases were approved by the 2009 Legislature before a signature campaign put them on the ballot.

At the same time, Liskey said the Legislature needs to fund the tasks it gives to state agencies. If the Legislature thinks a program is worth asking for, the program should also be important enough to be funded, he said.



How do you respond when challenged?
Monte Keady, division chief of Klamath County Fire District No. 1, asked the candidates to describe what they have done that exemplifies their leadership qualities.

Specifically, he asked, “when have you had your leadership challenged? What was the outcome? What did you learn? And how are you going to make that change as a representative of District 56?”

Liskey: “It is a very hard question and I don't know if I have the right answer for it, or an answer,” Liskey said. He decided to reference the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement. As a landowner, Liskey said, he voted for it. But as a county member and a member of several committees, he was against parts of it. Through the agreement process, Liskey said, he learned to stand his ground and at the same time work toward a future outcome.

Whitsett: She called her fight with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality one of her biggest challenges. Whitsett and her husband, state Sen. Doug Whitsett, went to Salem to challenge the department's stance that phosphorous levels in Upper Klamath Lake were human caused. Whitsett contends the phosphorous levels are caused by surrounding rocks, and called the levels out of human control.

“I just keep holding fast, doing the best I can, go to Salem, talk to the DEQ and letting people know that this is a major problem we have,” she said. “This is a huge challenge and I'm still working on it. But it's difficult. It's like pushing a rock uphill.”


Candidate roundtable: State House District 56
What impact can you have on natural resources?
When it comes to natural resources and environmental issues, Dan Keppen, a member of the Herald and News’ readers advisory committee, asked what top natural resource issues the candidates would address, and, given the political makeup in Salem (predominately Democratic), what they think can be done toward those ends?

Tracey Liskey: Liskey referenced his work with environmentalists, tribes and others on the governor’s sustainability board, the Oregon fish screening task force and the Oregon Farm Bureau. But he said many people in Klamath and Lake counties don’t feel they’re being heard in the capital.

“They don’t believe Salem understands we’re even here as an area,” Liskey said. “My biggest strength would be to work with the people in Salem off-session, find those common threads, find what we can do to help this area, and find how to make sure the things that come out of Salem fit our area along with other areas.”

Gail Whitsett: Whitsett, speaking from her scientific background as a geologist, said she would want to repeal the current water quality standards put in place by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. She said those standards are 10 times stricter than federal Environmental Protection Agency water quality rules in the rest of the country.

“This was done without legislative oversight,” Whitsett said. “It was a rule that ODEQ put in place and it has a potential to cause the state great numbers of business jobs, businesses and shut down agriculture.”

She said she would introduce a legislative bill to repeal the water quality standard.

In response, Klamath Tribal Council member GeorGene Nelson asked what the candidates would say about water quality standards when she, as a Tribal member, feels unsafe eating local fish because of poor water quality. She asked how they would make recommendations as legislators?

Whitsett: Whitsett said she is in favor of Environmental Protection Agency water standards, but argued phosphorous, the contaminant she referred to, is naturally occurring in the water.

“I think we’re talking about different things,” she said.

Liskey: As a farmer he has seen how humans can affect the natural environment. He also has worked toward fixing water issues, including water quality. Millions of dollars have been spent on improving irrigation, he said, and millions more may yet be spent.

“I know we have an effect so we have to address it,” Liskey said. “And we have to address it in a very positive manner.”


Spouses serving together discussed
One topic of discussion was the potential for spouses to both serve in the Legislature at the same time. Gail Whitsett is the wife of incumbent state Sen. Doug Whitsett, who is running for re-election. Bill Kennedy, a rancher, said he’d heard that Liskey described Gail Whitsett’s run for the House, at the same time her husband would be serving in the Senate, as “less than moral.”

Whitsett: “I view it as: I’m an individual and he’s an individual,” Whitsett said. “I think any of us in this room who are married can relate to the fact that we’re not our spouses.”

She said her experience and education added to that individual quality.

Whitsett also referenced many examples of family members — couples, brothers, fathers and sons — serving in the Oregon Legislature, past and present.

“There’s quite a long history of people serving simultaneously in both chambers or in one or the other,” she said. “I don’t see it as a problem at all. It’s one of 60 in the House and one of 30 in the Senate.”

Liskey: Oregon’s republic system of government depends on diverse representation, Liskey said, and that representation could not come from only one household representing Klamath and Lake counties in both the Senate and the House.

“To me, morally, I’m not sure it is 100 percent correct,” he said, but added, “(There’s) nothing wrong with it.”


How are you different from each other?
Jeff Ball, former Klamath Falls city manager and a member of News the Herald editorial and board, noted the candidates had much in common, and asked them how they differ.

Liskey: He cited his experience working with different groups and people with different viewpoints, to try to find equitable solutions.

Whitsett: Whitsett listed her legislative experience, as chief of staff for her husband, state Sen. Doug Whitsett, and her education as a geologist. She compared the representative position to a doctor in an operating room.

“Do you want to be with someone who has been in the operating room for seven years, watching and being a part of it?” She asked. “Or do you want somebody who maybe is on the outside and has been watching it?”

Generational poverty and social services Julie Murray-Jensen, vice-president of student services at Klamath Community College, said she sees  generational poverty in Klamath Falls, and called it a source of Basin issues with crime, education and jobs. In times of tight budgets, Murray-Jensen asked, how would the candidates tackle human services at the state level?

Whitsett: She said she is concerned about fraud and inefficiency in the Oregon Department of Human Services. She said she has heard of people using food stamp and welfare dollars, issued as credit cards, and selling the cards outside the U.S., for example.

“I think we need to make people accountable for the money that they get,” Whitsett said. That accountability and streamlining could free up funds to be used for local services.

Liskey: Liskey advocated searching “outside the box” of the state general fund to federal, grant and private dollars to help enhance human services programs.

“We owe it to our children,” he said. “We owe it to our senior citizens. They've already put in their time and now it’s our time to make sure they have a good life and their children are brought up with an opportunity to move forward because that's our future.”


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