Oregon House District 2 candidates speaking to veterans Tuesday night were quick to offer broad solutions on boosting the economy and improving conditions for veterans.
Republican nominee Dallas Heard told the crowd assembled at the American Legion Post 16 that he intends to spend his first term in office learning the job and helping get veterans the services they deserve. He said one way to assure jobs for returning servicemen and women is to provide a strong economy, which can be helped by fewer regulations on small business owners.
Democratic challenger Kerry Atherton said veterans would benefit from more assistance preparing for careers after service. He also said some military positions need pay raises.
The two will face off in November’s election. Tuesday’s debate was hosted by the Douglas County Veterans Forum.
Heard, 29, of Myrtle Creek and Atherton, 65, of Roseburg are seeking the post now held by Republican Tim Freeman, who was elected Douglas County commissioner in May and will take over the position in January.
House District 2 includes Roseburg and spreads south to Myrtle Creek, Canyonville, Riddle, Glendale and to the corners of Jackson and Josephine counties.
The evening’s discussion ranged from veterans’ services to the economy to timber. Several questions from the audience were about the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which candidates pointed out is regulated by the federal government and not by the Legislature. Heard and Atherton said they’d work with the Oregon Congressional Delegation on veterans issues that are not addressed at the state level.
Moderator Bud Bessey told the crowd of 40 that Douglas County veterans get more than $90 million a year in pensions and benefits, but veterans transferring from the service face challenges such as finding employment in rural Oregon. He asked Heard and Atherton how they would help veterans find work, then piggybacked off the question by asking the two men what they would do to end homelessness among veterans.
In their answers, Atherton spoke of needing job assistance programs for returning veterans, while Heard said more jobs with good wages should be created for servicemen and women coming back home.
Heard also reiterated the need for a strong economy.
“People have to have jobs to have homes,” he said. “I will get the economy going any way that I can.”
Atherton said better counselors and transitional housing are needed.
Both candidates said they would work to ensure the 150-bed state veterans home is built on the Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center campus. The 2011 Legislature approved $10.5 million for the project in hopes of prodding the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to approve the construction. State veterans homes have been built in The Dalles and Lebanon, and Roseburg is supposed to be next.
Atherton and Heard also said they’d work to prevent the loss of more services at the Roseburg VA hospital. Heard said as a legislator, the best he could do is talk with the congressional delegation. Atherton concurred, adding he’d put together a team of local veterans to press the issue to the delegation.
The two agreed they’d like to bring more medical professionals into the community to serve veterans and residents. Both suggested expanding educational opportunities at Umpqua Community College, with Atherton saying he’d like to see UCC become a four-year institution.
Each candidate touted his business background as a qualification for office. Atherton is a retired businessman who said he’s worked for 40 years. His past positions include district manager for Orenco Systems in Sutherlin and a decade as an international contracts administrator at Boeing in Seattle.
Heard has owned and operated Emerald Lawns Sod Farm and Landscape Construction for 10 years. He said he started the sod business right out of high school and expanded services to include landscaping construction.
Atherton said job growth needs to happen at the local level. Douglas County can’t rely on the prospect of a large company moving in with 300 to 500 positions, he said.
“We drastically need to find new employment in new industries besides timber,” he said. “This has been the timber capital of the world. Unfortunately it will never be again.”
Heard agreed with diversifying, but said the “timber capital” title wouldn’t have to go away if there were less opposition from the continuous stream of lawsuits from conservation groups.
“We are not the timber capital of the world, not because we can’t be, but because we are being kept down,” he said. “We can still be the timber capital of the world.”
•You can reach reporter Christina George at 541-957-4202 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.