The race for Bend's House Seat has been a bruising one, to say the least. Incumbent Judy Stiegler faces a serious threat from her Republican challenger, Jason Conger, a real estate attorney and investor, who has marshaled an impressive campaign to unseat Stiegler, at least from a cash perspective. The bulk of Conger's media campaign has focused on tearing down Stiegler's record on taxes and the state budget.
Like other GOP challengers, Conger appears to be banking on the notion that voters are ready to toss incumbents out on their ear because of the current state of the economy. However, the reality is that Oregon's budgetary woes are part of a larger economic morass that Oregon has very little control over. Economic experts agree that it's likely going to take years, not months, for Oregon and the nation to climb out of the hole that Wall Street has dug for our country and our state. In the meantime, though, our Legislature is going to be faced with some very difficult decisions. It must figure out how to deal with the growing costs of its obligations, including public employee pensions, health care costs, public safety and education at a time when revenues are stagnant or shrinking.
There are no easy answers to these challenges, but Stiegler is eminently more qualified than Conger, and the independent challenger Mike Kozak, to tackle these issues. Stiegler's experience as a state board of education member, Bend School Board member, and having decades of community involvement, to say nothing of her experience as a legislator, affords her a perspective that is lacking in her opponents, particularly Conger, an attorney with no public service experience in Oregon, who appears to be no more than a vessel for every failed Republican policy of the last decade. While Conger lobbies for across-the-board tax cuts at a time when the state is faced with a $2 billion shortfall, Judy has worked to maintain full funding for education and public safety, and for some semblance of a safety net for Oregon's most sensitive population. At the same time, Stiegler acknowledges that the legislature needs to rein in state spending and said she supports reevaluating the state's pension spending - no easy task, but a necessary one. While Stiegler's opponents have attacked her for her vote on Measures 66-67, the "sky is falling" predictions just haven't materialized as a result of the business and personal income tax measure. And Stiegler's record simply doesn't support the notion that she's unfriendly toward business.
Perhaps the centerpiece of Conger's ad campaign is the claim that the Legislature increased spending by $4 billion in the midst of the ongoing recession. That's a great sound byte, and is technically true. But it's plenty dishonest. The "all funds" budget, which includes federal pass-through money for things like Medicare as well as bridges and highways, increased in the last biennium - as many state budgets did thanks to the federal stimulus spending. But the state's general fund budget, the largest pool of discretionary funding that includes social service programs, education and public safety, actually decreased in the last two years. We wanted to ask Conger about these issues and several concerning social issues such as his support of school vouchers and the teaching of "intelligent design" in public schools, but we never had the chance. He declined our invitation to sit down with our editorial board, a first from a candidate for statewide office. That should be of concern to all voters, especially those who might not necessarily share Conger's conservative views. After all, if he isn't willing to listen to hear another perspective during the campaign, when will he?
Thankfully though, we have an experienced legislator in office, one with a long track record of community service in Bend and Oregon at large. And that person is Judy Stiegler, a woman who understands the difficult challenges that Oregon faces right now and is willing to put in the hard work to get Oregon back where it belongs, leading the nation in areas like education and innovation. This one is an easy choice folks; pick the statesman, not the salesman.