Democrat Jeff Golden and Republican Jessica Gomez are running in the Nov. 6 election.
Gomez offered what she said would be a big step forward to help avoid sexual harassment.
“We need to elevate more women into leadership roles,” she said.
Golden said the state capital isn’t even a safe place for women, suggesting the creation of a third-party group to keep an eye on the Legislature.
Golden said, “Women’s harassment isn’t just a woman’s problem, it’s everybody’s problem.
Jefferson Public Radio sponsored the town hall at Southern Oregon University, moderated by Geoffrey Riley, who offered questions from the public to the candidates. About 400 people, half of them students, showed up for the event.
Gomez and Golden staked out their biggest difference on abortion, specifically Measure 106 that seeks to block taxes from being used for abortion.
Gomez said she’s pro-choice, but she said she understands those who don’t want to finance abortions through tax dollars.
“There are plenty of options for women who are less fortunate,” she said. “I understand the angst of spending tax dollars on abortions.”
Golden said he opposes the measure, saying its passage would unfairly harm the poor the most.
“Its un-American and un-Oregonian,” he said, drawing some of the biggest applause of the hour-long town hall.
The attempt to repeal the so-called sanctuary state law, Measure 105, was another hot topic.
If passed, Golden said, “It would make Oregon the national face for racial profiling.”
Gomez said she opposes Measure 105 and is in favor of legislation that allows federal and state authorities to coordinate during investigations of criminal activity involving undocumented residents. (Corrected from an earlier version).
Both candidates were asked what they liked and disliked about their party affiliation.
“I’m not thrilled with the Democratic Party,” Golden said.
He said the party needs to cut its ties with Wall Street and live up to the values outlined in the Democratic platform, which he supports.
He said Democrats and the Democratically controlled Legislature often don’t do a good job keeping within a budget, while often not owning up to fiscal failures, such as the $300 million loss from bad software that was supposed to run Oregon’s web portal for its version of the Affordable Care Act.
“Something like the Oracle debacle — they take it too lightly,” he said.
Gomez, who switched parties from Democrat to Republican in May 2017, said that as a business owner she sees the importance of developing good-paying jobs to make Oregon a better place to live.
She has grown alarmed at the nasty, divisive politics emanating from Washington.
“I don’t want to see that creeping down into our community,” she said.
Gomez would like the Legislature to do more to make sure programs are run effectively while taking a tougher stance on going after escalating costs to support the public retirement system.
If government can work more efficiently, it would provide more resources for education, she said.
“I’d love to increase funding for our schools and university system,” Gomez said.
Golden said he agreed that government needs to work harder to get rid of inefficiencies and to provide greater clarity to the public about how it spends money.
He said he’d like to see more efficiencies in the public retirement system but thinks former state employees have been unfairly demonized. He said the average yearly pension since 2003 is now about $30,000.
“I’m tired of seeing them used as the fall guy for Oregon,” Golden said.
More needs to be done to help university students saddled with loans to fund their education, he said.
Golden offered one solution to help finance thinning projects in forests to help.
“I’d like to see you people offered tuition after spending a year or two in the woods,” he said.
Both candidates wanted to do more for mental health issues and homelessness.
“Our homeless problem is really suffering from mental health issues,” Gomez said.
She suggested putting more resources into addiction services and the creation of a 100-bed facility for those with mental health issues.
Golden said there are many local organizations that are on the front lines of these problems, saying they need more support from the community. One program he cited was Hope Village in Medford, which has tiny houses that are temporary shelters.
He also wants to restore mental health services in Jackson County schools, which would help teachers deal with disruptive students.