Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Mike Caudle Interview, Part One

There's a lot of talk among Oregon Democrats that this is their year to take back the state House, and foremost in their minds for toppling is Speaker Karen Minnis. Rob Brading is the Democratic challenger in that race, and he's got a very good shot at taking down the Queen of Obstruction.

Because Brading finished so close to Minnis in 2002, and the district has a slight (D) edge and voted for Kerry in 2004, his run is getting all the publicity and attention. But there are other races, and other top Republicans in the House who are largely responsible for the state's legislative decline in recent years. Nearly as influential in Salem as Minnis is Majority Leader Wayne Scott, the incumbent of HD 39, which encompasses Oregon City and Canby and a whole lot of not much else.

If you're a regular reader of LO you know that we think Scott is a blowhard, a bully, and a legislative manipulator who plays favorites. But he's also dangerously out of touch with what it's like to live in his district and NOT be a powerful denizen of the Capitol.

Enter the young and energetic Mike Caudle. A teacher, wrestling coach and self-admitted former delinquent of sorts, Caudle doesn't immediately strike you as someone viable for the statehouse--where's the experience? Where's the fat resume'? Why would district residents want to go from the #2 man in the House to low guy on the totem pole? Isn't one bad boy in Salem enough?

But then Mike opens his mouth to talk about why he's running and why a change is needed, and many of those doubts melt away. Caudle is intellectual without being elitist, concerned and compassionate without being idealistic, and is very strongly connected to the people he wants to represent. His unpretentious style and indirect route to personal success gives him a quality that sets people at ease, knowing they won't be talked down to or treated like peons. I felt at ease, at least, and in the time I spent speaking with him I came to believe that he may just have the stuff necessary to capture lightning in a bottle and boot Scott to the curb.

And if Caudle's polling results from respected surveyor Joel Wright are any indication, I'm not the only person he's impressed so far. In Part Two of this interview I'll take a closer look at what those results portend, but in a nutshell Scott is vulnerable, and if Caudle can raise his recognition level in the district as the election draws nearer, he has a surprisingly strong chance to put the race into the spotlight and unseat the Republican.

One of the motivating factors that put Caudle in this race was the premature birth and subsequent complications on his (now two-year-old) daughter, and how dealing with that struggle opened his eyes to how broken our systems are. I asked him to elaborate on what he meant: Everyone has horror stories about their individual bouts with bureaucracy, but you say yours on behalf of your daughter motivated you to run for office. What was your view of "government" before your daughter was born, and how did that experience change your view?
I work in education, my wife works for a corporate US bank; we have great insurance. So it wasn't so much our situation, although there were some battles we had to go through personally. Anytime you're in the hospital for 5 mionths, in and out of the hospital every day, you make friends.

And it was just agonizing, the difficulties people would go through. Not only in terms of government bureaucracy around services for babies with disabilities and all of the social work stuff that happens, but with their own insurance. We stopped counting hospital bills when it got to a million dollars. You see real quick where the difficulties are around health insurance, and the difference between what the hospital charges and what the insurance company ends up paying is huge.

We've got a lot of problems around health care is what it boils down to, not only access but affordability. It's a big deal, especially for our most vulnerable citizens--the elderly, and kids. I believe that every child should have access to health care, period. That's something that we need to be moving forward on. Real health care, not access to emergency services but preventive medicine and regular well baby, well kid checkups--regular staying healthy, being able to go to school every day, functioning-at-a-high-level type of insurance.

Two, there's no current health insurance commission. There's no checks and balances around when health insurance corporations in this state raise their rates. And I think there should be a regular review, just like there is with the PUCs or anything like that--anytime there's a rate hike, they should go through some sort of statewide review process and justify that rate.

Statewide education needs to be allowed to purchase health care in bulk. Right now, districts do it "however"--some go together, but my thought process is that health insurance is about buying power. If we would let small businesses go in together, if we would let education systems go in together, that's going to ease the burden on people's pocketbooks.
Talk about the platform just released by the House Democrats. Which are the most important goals from it for you?
It's pretty interesting--it matches pretty well what I'm already talking about. We gotta do something to protect and support our working families. Rep. Merkeley talks about acting quickly to keep our families and neighborhoods safe. Sexual assault crimes, identity theft, meth crimes--those are huge in this district, and they're growing every day. We gotta do a couple things: one, I believe we need more state troopers on the roads protecting our citizens, and two you can't just punish, punish punish--we need to do more around treatment, too.
Here I got a little tough on Mike, trying to force him into being more detailed about his plans for office. Regarding adding troopers and treatment options, I asked whether he knew what those expansions cost. Did he know how much one state trooper costs the state? He admitted he did not. I then focused on a line from his website, in which he proposed that no sex offender be allowed to live with three miles of a school. I asked, Is it physically possible for a sex predator to live somewhere in your district that is 3 miles from ANY school?
It is possible to live in the district--I live three miles from a school. I know that I live--maybe 2 and a half miles. I know that it's possible to live...and y'know, we could debate the semantics of how far, but across the street from a school is not a healthy situation. Down the block from a school is not a healthy situation. So whether it's two miles a mile, three miles--but some distance from a school is a good idea. We shouldn't have sex predators around schools.
He handled those questions fairly well, and while he backtracked from his specific proposal on sex offenders he didn't get bogged down in arbitrary measurements and made clear that his goal was keeping sex predators away from kids, in whatever way works. I let him off the hook a little, and gave him the opportunity to make the case for change in the 39th District: In what ways specific to your district and Clackamas County, has Wayne Scott been bad for the district? How are you different?
Oh boy...

One is his refusal to vote for the payday loan bill during the regular session, and his vote against it during the special session. You know, there are a lot of our citizens who are living on the edge--especially in this district. We've got rural communities and suburbia. There are a lot of people living on the edge paycheck to paycheck, and to say that it's all right to charge 521 percent interest--that's detrimental to our citizens. And then to compare payday loan costs to having your shirt laundered--which he did in The Oregonian--it's not only detrimental, it's insulting. How in touch with the people in our district are you, when you're comparing payday loans at 521 percent interest to getting your shirt laundered. I just think that's...really insulting.

The second thing is that they voted--y'know, he's gonna spin it however he wants to spin it--but they voted to cut 20 state troopers. I-5 runs along the border of this district, and I-205 runs straight through it. They're two big meth trafficking routes. Now that we're fixing the problem of meth production, now it's moved to a trafficking problem. If you cut state troopers, more meth's traveling this route, which means it's getting into Oregon City just as much as it was before. We fixed the production problem, or we're solving the production problem, but in terms of the trafficking problem it's still here, it hasn't gone away at all. Two or three weeks ago we met with the District Attorney who said it's just moved from a production problem to a trafficking problem. If we don't have state troopers...

The third thing is they talk about how much great they've done for the K-12 budget--the bottom line is that K-12 classes in this district are bigger than they were when Wayne Scott took office four years ago. Those are the three ways that are directly detrimental to our citizens that can be attributed directly to the House Majority Leader and their leadership.
We'll finish Part One with a stab at some of the hot topics in the state...What are your positions on: same-sex marriage (remarking on civil unions as well)...
I think civil unions is the safest way...I don't mean safe, the most prudent way to travel. There's a big...if two people love and care and support each other, they deserve to be able to receive each other's benefits, and move that direction and be taking care of each other. You know the marriage issue is a very sticky wicket with the religious community and at the end of the day I believe what people want to do is take care of each other so if we can move down the civil unions path I think that's a good direction to be headed. It may not be a perfect direction, but it's a step in the right direction.
Measure 37...
I'm not gonna tell you I'm deeply versed in it, but it's gonna be a huge issue for this district. Cause we've gotta build, because this is where people want to move to, but we can't afford to lose our nurseries and our farmlands. That's a delicate balance to strike--should someone be justly rewarded for what the value of their property is? Sure, if it's not going to manage to bankrupt state government.

And the piece that I worry about most in general is rural. If people have the opportunity to sell farmlands they're going to take advantage of it, but in the short term that may look like the most personally beneficial situation, but this economy--Clackamas County's economy and the district's economy can't survive without rural farmlands, nurseries, all of that sort of...that's what drives this part of our county's economy.
...and the kicker?
I have what I would love to see happen, and then what's realistic. I would love to see 85%, some number of that kicker go back to the citizens of the district. The whole premise of the kicker is a flawed reality anyway, but Oregonians are so in love with it I don't know if it will ever go away. If 85% of it would go back to the citizens when we overestimate, and if we could set aside 15% of it to start building a rainy day fund to balance us out through the good times and bad, that would be a great reality.

The problem is the state legislature and frankly...the state legislature hasn't earned that right from the citizens. Our citizens don't trust our government to do the right thing with taxes in general. That may be fair or unfair but that's where they're at. So if we can start with the corporate kicker and say hey, we're going to put this money into a rainy day fund, we're going to start looking and prioritize how we would spend it and earn the citizens trust back, then maybe we'll be able to start having a conversation about how to stabilize the budget through the lean years and the good years, whether that involves the kicker or not. I just think too few citizens trust Salem to do good with their money. That may not be fair, but it is where people are at.
In Part Two we'll talk more about the polling done for him, how he feels his race fits into the larger Democratic scheme in Oregon, the role community college plays both in his life and in his district, and personal questions about where he lives and what he does with his time.