BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) – Oregon Senate District 30 is the state’s largest, stretching from Central Oregon to the Columbia Gorge and covering most of Eastern Oregon – more than a third of the state, in fact. The issues are just as big, and appointed GOP Senator Lynn Findley and Democratic challenger Carina Miller covered many of them in Tuesday night’s debate on KTVZ.
Findley, who formerly served in the Oregon House, was appointed to the Senate seat when Cliff Bentz stepped down to run for Congress.
Now the family rancher and retired Bureau of Land Management aviation program manager faces Miller, who grew up on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, spent three years on the Tribal Council and believes her breadth of experience matches Findley’s, in its own way.
Miller also cited her experience as a social worker and educator in her opening statement, while noting the issues ranging from marijuana to energy and education she played a role in on the Tribal Council, working at the state, federal and local level.
Findley said he was born and raised in Eastern Oregon on a family cattle ranch and served in a variety of public roles. In Salem, he said he strives to protect the “rural way of life” on priorities from economic development and resources development to job retention and growth to rural health care, both physical and mental.
Asked the greatest challenge facing the district, Miller noted how issues are interconnected but said water issues affect every family and touched on the changing climate, such as lower snowpack. Pointing out that Jefferson and Malheur counties are the most impoverished in the state, she said leaders should not be taking donations from – and doing the bidding of corporate PACs, but strive for stable, living-wage jobs.
Findley frequently pointed his finger at Democrat leaders for “one size fits all” approaches to issues that don’t take into account just how different things are for people east of the Cascades.
“One of the greatest challenges we have is the overreach we have with state government that limits our ability to thrive,” he said adding that the burdensome land use and other regulations and taxation limits family farms’ ability to stay in existence.
“We need to get off the backs of people, and let them thrive and do better,” he said. “It’s hard to recruit businesses when we have an oppressive tax schedule.”
The second question from moderator Lee Anderson asked the candidates what they would do to represent those so upset that they’d like change the state's borders and join a ‘Greater Idaho.”
Miller said that as a Native American raised in a tribal family with many traditions, she experienced racism and sexism. While she doesn’t support moving the state’s border, the key is to “have better conversations” and work to get more resources for the rural district.
“I know what it’s like not to be represented,” she said.
Findley said he shared the Greater Idaho group’s frustrations, and echoed Miller about having conversations, noting his frequent town halls while running for the House, and virtual ones he’s had this year, due to COVID-19, to get input from those voicing frustration, as well as attending meetings of groups such as the state of Jefferson and Greater Idaho.
“There’s just frustrations,” he said. “With 25 years of Democratic leadership in this state ignoring rural Oregon, shows that’s what you get. The Democratic leadership has absolutely ignored Eastern Oregon, and it takes a strong voice.”
But he also said he works hard at collaboration across the aisle “to make our voices heard."
That prompted Miller to bring up a different frustration – when Republicans “choose not to show up and do their jobs,” noting the recent walkouts from the Legislature.
Miller also again noted corporate contributions to her opponent, prompting Findley to say: “It’s not whether you get contributions – your vote’s not for sale.”
When the candidates got to question each other, Miller both thanked Findley for his public service, but also said that as an appointed state senator, “You have never represented me,” and asked how he planned to do that.
Findley said that after his appointment in January, he worked with others to ensure nearly $8 million in funding to start addressing the Warm Springs water crisis. Though COVID-19 meant a hit to that funding, he said there’s still $8.2 million going to address the issue.
Miller said she appreciated Findley’s efforts, but pointed out the overall need for fixing the tribes’ water system is $200 million. She said she still feels not well represented, “but I do appreciate the initiative.”
Findley asked Miller what experience she has that makes her qualified to represent 144,000 people in the district with their diverse needs and issues.
Miller spoke again about her time with the tribal Council and noted that the tribes have a long history of land management and natural resources, focusing not just on present-day needs but seven generations ahead.
The last question was about how in a time of online learn the candidates can bring badly needed broadband internet to rural areas in the district.
Miller pointed out that Findley voted against a tax on cellphones to fund rural broadband, which she said is key infrastructure not just for schools but for economic development and job training, even 911.
Findley said she supports the efforts to improve broadband in rural areas, but opposed giving $10 million to Business Oregon without a specific list of projects, “so taxpayers knew what we’d get for that money.” He also said projects are under way in Grant and Harney counties to improve broadband access.
In her closing statement, Miller said, “It is time for us to change, make decisions we’ve never made. We have to start doing what’s right, and care about all people in the community.”
Findley said “state government is bloated with regulations and power,” saying the Democratic majority “wants to raise taxes $1 billion a year. … the state of Oregon doesn’t have a revenue problem. It has a spending problem.”