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Democrat Lemon challenges Hannon for state Senate; he says he has more left to do

Political newcomer wants a role

The state Senate's powerful budget chief, lauded by both Republicans and Democrats, is being challenged for the position he's held for nearly three decades by an 80-year-old political newcomer.

But Democrat Virginia Lemon, a former high-ranking federal official, said she's determined to make a vigorous run for Republican State Sen. Lenn Hannon's seat in District. 3.

He's been there 28 years and I think too often he's reaching for easy, peaceful solutions, Lemon said. You need fresh vigor, and courage up in Salem.

Hannon ' who is known for his willingness to break with his party when its stance conflicts with his own ideals ' said he still has a lot left to do in Salem. And he says he's the guy that can get it done.

I've tried to maintain representation for the broadest base of people, Hannon said. To be the voice of education, health care, jobs and the environment.

State Senate District — includes Ashland, Talent, Phoenix, Jacksonville and a majority of Medford. Both candidates live in Ashland.

A 59-year-old insurance agent, Hannon was first elected to the post in 1974 as a Democrat. He quickly established his independence by returning a &

36;500 campaign donation to the Oregon AFL-CIO after the union leaned on him to vote for labor legislation he didn't support. He became a Republican in 1980. But still, he's never been in lock-step with his party.

At one point in the fifth special session this year, the Senate president threatened to strip Hannon of his committee assignments if he didn't vote for reconsideration of a bill to scrap the public employee retirement system. Hannon declined, yet remained chairman of the budget committee.

Senate Majority Leader David Nelson said Hannon has been an effective, influential Republican leader.

Lenny is very effective for two reasons: One, he cares about people, he's a very compassionate person, Nelson said. And two, he goes to bat for his constituents ' he represents his district very well.

Hannon has also gained respect from the Democrats in the Senate.

On a personal level I adore Lenn, said Kate Brown, the Senate minority leader. He's a wonderful, warm, kind human being and he does this for the right reasons. On a political level, we need more Lenn Hannons ' that's the reality.

Brown said she hasn't met Lemon, but the harsh reality is what makes the Legislature kick is the relationships people develop over time. For Lenn Hannon, his ties go way back ' not only to both sides of the aisle in the Senate, but the House as well. Those folks are irreplaceable.

Hannon said despite his years in the Senate, there are many issues that still need to be addressed.

There's still no stable school funding, he said. There's issues that need to be resolved as far as the timber industry, health care, property taxes.

Hannon said while he is opposed to across-the-board or arbitrary tax increases, he is open to considering taxes.

Although this will be her first run for office, Lemon believes her experience, commitment and ability to communicate will make a difference in the Senate.

Lemon is the former chief of education and cultural affairs for the U.S. State Department in Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and the Pacific Islands. In that job, she oversaw Fulbright exchanges, educational and cultural exchanges and tours of political and cultural leaders. She served in the same capacity overseeing northeast Asia. Before that, Lemon served as a U.S. State Department cultural attach?.

A lifelong Democrat, Lemon moved to Ashland 15 years ago from Washington, D.C. She has since been active in the Democratic Party and environmental causes.

When she first filed papers to run for the Senate seat, she did it to make sure there was a Democrat on the ballot. But she quickly saw the potential in taking the post.

The thing that strikes me about Virginia is she's inspirational, said former Ashland Mayor Cathy Shaw, a political consultant who helped Lemon get into the race. You have an octogenarian who steps in because of her frustration that we missed fixing the state's budget problem by just one vote in the first special session.

Shaw said Lemon's ideals are right in line with Democratic values.

Her commitment to schools is outstanding, her commitment to the environment is unwavering. her commitment to seniors, health care, universal health care is exactly on target, Shaw said.

Lemon says her goals are to create a stable system of funding for schools, obtain better funding for higher education, protect the environment, and provide affordable health care with affordable prescription rates for everyone, with special consideration to the poor, the children, the disabled.

We are about the only country in the world without affordable health care for all, and that's a disgrace, she said.

And Lemon doesn't shrink from identifying sources of revenue she favors, including a sales tax, luxury taxes, higher corporate taxes, and getting rid of the kicker, a dreadful instrument of government.

We're in a dreadful state of affairs, she said.

Reach reporter Dani Dodge at 776-4471, or e-mail