Aug. 29, 2018 — U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio and Oregon Rep. Caddy McKeown appeared at a joint town hall meeting Tuesday in the Bromley Room at the Siuslaw Public Library. The turnout for the event was high and many interested residents stood outside the Bromley Room waiting for a seat to open.
Both DeFazio and McKeown are current Democratic office holders that are running for re-election this November and face credible challengers for their respective offices.
McKeown spoke first, mentioning some of her personal history and how those experiences have informed and motivated her work as the representative for District Nine.
She highlighted her long-standing commitment to education, pointing to her work across the state and with the Siuslaw School District overseeing and dramatically expanding the ASPIRE program. ASPIRE is the state’s mentoring program to help students access education and training beyond high school.
“I first started out because I have an interest in education. My kids were growing up and going to public schools, so I spent 11 years on the Coos Bay School Board and I’ve continued to be involved in education issues since that time,” McKeown said.
She also shared the work she has done in the most recent legislative session at the Oregon House of Representatives in Salem, including serving on the Agriculture and Natural Resource Committee, the Economic Development and Trade Committee and as Chair of the Joint Commission on Transportation.
McKeown then opened the meeting to questions from the crowd. While some of the queries questioned decisions made by the current administration, most revolved around the funding levels for education and the possible need for a state-wide sales tax.
McKeown cited some of the state’s history surrounding earlier attempts at passing a sales tax and asked for a show of hands of those in attendance who would support a sales tax. Though she seemed somewhat surprised when most of the hands in the room were raised, McKeown appeared resigned to the difficulties of passing a state sales tax.
“We’ve had a sales tax on the ballot at least nine times, maybe more, and it has always gone down in flames by huge numbers,” McKeown said. “This showing of hands gives me some hope that maybe we can move in that direction in the future.”
DeFazio, who has been the representative for Oregon Congressional District 4 since 1987, followed McKeown’s presentation.
While the congressman was direct in his criticism of President Trump and the administration’s policies, changes and cuts during its first two years in office, DeFazio was primarily focused on the work within his district.
“The greatest accomplishment of this partisan Republican Congress is the passage of the massive tax cut bill. Seventy-three percent of the benefits flow to corporations … and six percent of Americans have gotten a raise or a bonus due to the tax cut,” DeFazio said. “The six largest banks in America, already profitable, will get a $20 billion tax break this year. This means we will borrow $20 billion and add it to the national debt and give to the six largest banks in the country.”
DeFazio then pointed to the ongoing needs of towns along the Oregon coast, mentioning continued efforts to provide the funding needed to maintain and improve the conditions of Oregon’s small ports and, in particular, the Siuslaw Estuary.
“Small ports are the lifeblood of many small communities on the Oregon coast, and the Corps (Army Corps of Engineers) has a budget that is not adequate,” DeFazio said. “They have huge needs on the Columbia, and elsewhere, and they tend to ignore the small ports … But I was able to get 10 percent set aside to dredge small ports and we are still benefitting from that.”
The question of cutting funding for social programs like Medicare and Social Security was raised and DeFazio again turned to the problems created by recent tax cuts. He reiterated his belief that the cuts are a major problem that will become more serious over time.
“We are projected to have a trillion-dollar deficits next year. A couple of hundred million of that is due to the tax bill, and that is a real concern. You can’t borrow a trillion dollars a year in peace time and make it work,” DeFazio said. “This means the debt will equal all of our other economic activity … and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has said this will undoubtedly lead to cuts in social Security and Medicare.”
One question from the audience moved away from economics when someone who identified himself as a local veteran asked DeFazio about the death of longtime senator and former prison of war (POW) John McCain, wanting to know the Congressman’s response to the way McCain’s passing had been handled by the president.
“John and I served together while he was on the senate side for many years. Mostly we worked together on Coast Guard issues, as we shared jurisdiction there and also things that related to commercial aviation,” DeFazio explained. “He was a patriot that served his country both in uniform and in the senate for many years, he suffered horribly as a POW in Vietnam and, while we had our political differences, I think we had a mutual respect for each other. I honor his life and passing.”
When asked if he had an opinion on the manner in which President Trump handled the death of McCain, DeFazio paused for a moment, obviously choosing his words carefully before answering, “The president showed himself to be very small.”
Both DeFazio and McKeown will be on the ballot on the Nov. 6 General Election.