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Bates, Dotterrer square off

Raising the minimum wage in Oregon was one of several issues over which two Oregon Senate candidates differed at a forum at the Rogue Valley Manor Tuesday.

Sen. Alan Bates, D-Medford, and Dave Dotterrer, R-Ashland, fielded questions from almost 200 Manor residents in a session moderated by the League of Women Voters Rogue Valley. The candidates are running for Senate District 3, which encompasses Medford, Ashland and the southern half of Jackson County.

The Pacific Green Party candidate, Arthur Krueger, didn’t show up for the forum, which was televised to all Manor residents.

The Bates-Dotterrer race is one of the most closely watched in the state because it could change the balance of power in the Legislature.

Dotterrer, a career U.S. Marine who attained the rank of colonel, said raising the $9.10 minimum wage would help some people but would cause others to lose a job opportunity because employers would have less money for additional wages.

“Leave it where it is right now,” he said.

Bates said a low minimum wage forces many workers to seek government programs to help pay their bills. He said many workers are at or near poverty levels.

“We are perilously close to being in that position now,” he said. “I also believe you need to raise the minimum wage."

When he was young, Bates said, he was happy to have a $3-an-hour job, but based on cost-of-living increases, he said that would equate to roughly $14 to $15 an hour now.

Dotterrer generally agreed with Bates that the minimum wage hadn’t kept pace with inflation. He said he remembers his $1.75-an-hour job when he was young, which he said would require a wage of about $11 now.

While the candidates varied on several issues, including the best way to bring jobs to Southern Oregon, they agreed on many points, including expressing concern about legalizing recreational marijuana.

Dotterrer said it would be prudent for Oregon to wait until the country gets a better idea of legalization in Washington and Colorado.

“We’ve got two states running experiments,” he said. “I don’t believe we ought to be doing this thing right now.”

Bates said he would accept the will of the people this November if they approve Ballot Measure 91, which seeks to legalize marijuana for those 21 and older.

He said that since the measure doesn’t change the Oregon Constitution, the Legislature could modify it. Bates said he would like tougher controls to keep marijuana away from children, particularly at an age when their brains are still developing.

Responding to a question from the audience about bringing more energy-efficient companies to the valley, the candidates agreed.

Bates said two solar-panel companies are contemplating a move into the valley soon, and he said more details will be released in the near future.

He said Energy Trust grants already have helped some businesses take advantage of “green” technologies, citing the new Lithia Motors headquarters as one example.

“I agree with everything Alan just said,” Dotterrer said.

He did say the region should receive more economic development funds to help it attract the kind of businesses that have gone to the northern part of the state.

“Economic development funds are being spread around the state incorrectly,” he said.

He said there’s a huge divide between the urban areas of Oregon versus the rural areas, which depend more on small business for their economic vitality.

Bates said this region needs to take advantage of the things it does well, such as attracting and helping Amy’s Kitchen in White City through its expansion efforts.

Bates, a Medford doctor and Vietnam veteran, said the aging population of this area has attracted about 1,000 new doctors and health care workers over the past few years. He said this area will continue to see growth in the health care sector.

Dotterrer said Jackson County has lost jobs over the past year, and he sees little to help promote a local economy that offers opportunities to those seeking work.

The unemployment rate continues to be about 25 percent higher in this area than much of the rest of the state, he said.

Bates said this area has been slower than the rest of the state as it returns to an employment rate not seen since the recession hit. However, Jackson County’s unemployment rate still remains better than much of the coast and much of the eastern part of the state, he said.

Dotterrer said his priority if he gets elected would be to stimulate the local economy and bring jobs.

“The number one priority for the upcoming Legislature should be jobs,” he said.

Both Bates and Dotterrer said balancing the state budget would be a priority.

Bates said another priority would be to increase higher education funding. He said that the state has worked to drive down health care costs, and he said the savings would be put back into higher education.

Both candidates said they favor Ballot Measure 92, which asks voters to require labeling of food to disclose whether it contains GMOs (genetically modified organisms).

“People have a right to know what they’re eating,” Bates said. “Label foods. Let people make their own decision.”

“I concur," said Dotterrer. "It’s about consumer choice.”

Bates said he supported a statewide retirement program to create a level playing field as long as people have the ability to have a private, 401K-type of program.

“More choices for people are always a good thing,” he said.

Dotterrer said he opposed the idea of government running retirement systems.

“You run a lot of risks when you get the state involved in it,” he said.

Dotterrer, who has been criticized for running negative campaign ads against Bates, said he would never attack his opponent personally but would raise issues that voters are interested in.

“I don’t think it suppresses votes,” he said. “It fires people up.”

Bates countered that most negative campaign ads throw out half-truths and half-lies. “I think it does suppress votes,” he said.

“I will never say anything negative,” he added. “I would rather lose than go negative.”

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at @reporterdm.

Sen. Alan Bates, left, and challenger Dave Dotterrer discuss issues during a forum at the Rogue Valley Manor Tuesday. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell