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Statesman-Journal - Candidates Air Their Differences at Forum

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Statesman-Journal - Candidates Air Their Differences at Forum

Five candidates for the open 5th District congressional seat disagreed Monday night on U.S. immigration and education policy as well as a state measure limiting bilingual education.

The forum was sponsored by Willamette University and the Oregon League of Minority Voters. One candidate, Independent Party nominee Sean Bates of Salem, responded too late and was not allowed to take part.

The candidates agreed that U.S. borders should be secured, temporary-worker programs for foreign nationals should be expanded and processing of legal applicants should be speeded up.

But Democrat Kurt Schrader accused Republican Mike Erickson of shifting positions since the May 20 primary, when Erickson sported a tougher stance in his victory over Kevin Mannix.

"One of my opponents changed his position that he was going to send everybody (without documents) back," Schrader said. "That is not going to work. The people are already here. If we send people back, that means 70,000 jobs in Oregon go away."

Although Erickson said last spring such a massive deportation was impractical, he also said undocumented workers should return to their countries and reapply for admission. He said Monday that he has not shifted his stance, but portrayed it differently.

"We need a work force here," said Erickson, a Lake Oswego businessman, who often read from or glanced at notes during the forum. "But let them come here legally, tell them to apply and do it the right way."

Constitution Party nominee Doug Patterson of Oregon City took a similar stance, but the other minor-party candidates said it was too tough.

"A lot of farmers would have a large issue if some people here get their way and we start deporting people," said Alex Polikoff of Corvallis, the Pacific Green Party candidate.

The Oregon Farm Bureau Federation and the AG-PAC political action committee have endorsed Schrader, who is a veterinarian, farmer and state senator from Canby.

Only Patterson favored Measure 58, which would limit bilingual education to two years.

Opposing it were Polikoff, Schrader and Libertarian Party nominee Steve Milligan of Monmouth.

"We need to find ways where people can integrate enough to function in our society, but still hang onto part of their culture so they do not lose it," Milligan said.

Erickson declined to say where he stood on the measure. He said teaching English is vital to immigrants who want to live here, but said afterward he was unsure whether it was wise to limit bilingual education to two years.

"English should be the primary language of this country," he said.

On federal education policy, four of the five candidates called for an end to the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act that sanctions schools if they fail to make adequate progress toward specified goals.

"You don't want to get rid of it," said Schrader, the only dissenter. "You want to reform it to make it do what it should do."

Erickson and Schrader traded direct accusations on another issue.

While responding to a question about homeownership by minorities, Erickson went after Schrader's late payment of property taxes 13 times over 20 years. The payments were the subject of a Statesman Journal story on Feb. 10, 2005.

"For too long, career politicians have made bad decisions," Erickson said. "For politicians such as my opponent, who hasn't paid his property taxes 17 times in 15 years, this is not an example of understanding sound economic principles. Rather, this is an example of the exact kind of backward thinking that got us into this economic mess in the first place."

Erickson's first televised ad, broadcast last week, also attacks Schrader on his late payments.

Schrader withheld a response until the forum's end, when he called it a "cheap shot at my personal situation."

"I've always paid my taxes," Schrader said. "But like a lot of you, I couldn't always pay on time."

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