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District 4 House candidates debate experience at forum

ROGUE RIVER ' The fur didn't exactly fly, but two candidates for the District 4 House seat set themselves apart on issues ranging from education to the state's budget mess at a forum Thursday night.

Republican Dennis Richardson and Democrat Shayne Maxwell voiced their opinions before about 50 people who showed up for the forum, sponsored by the League of Women Voters.

The candidates are vying for a district that encompasses the northern portion of Jackson County from Central Point to Rogue River and into Josephine County.

During the forum, the candidates were allowed to pose one question of each other.

Richardson asked his opponent, With Oregon's finances in a freefall, what experience do you have in the area of budgets?

Maxwell shot back, I've had no experience with state budgets and neither do you.

But she did say she has a willingness to examine where the money is being spent and to work on streamlining the budget.

There aren't any math geniuses in the Legislature or else we wouldn't be in the budget crisis we're in, she said.

Maxwell asked her opponent how he could be a treasurer on the state Republican Committee and endorse a platform that calls for abolishing the Oregon Department of Education, preschool funding and other services that affect education.

Richardson responded that he wasn't aware of this portion of the platform.

I didn't write the platform, he said. I never said I endorsed the entire platform.

He said he doesn't support every aspect of the Republican party, but believes that anyone who wants to be in politics must be a part of the two-party system to get anything done.

I believe in the strong parts of the party that go along with the tenets of the Constitution, he said.

Both candidates thought something should be done about the budget mess in Salem and also wanted to boost the economy of this region.

Southern Oregon has been a tail on the Portland dog for a long time, said Maxwell.

Richardson said he would work toward reducing the size of government as much as possible.

Every dollar of taxes paid is a dollar not going into a family's wallet, he said.

Maxwell said one of the biggest stumbling blocks for attracting new business is land use restrictions that make it difficult to build new stores and industries.

She urged offering low-interest loans to help local businesses survive and expand.

Richardson said Southern Oregon can't fully take advantage of its natural resources. Rules and regulations have closed us out of our forests, he said.

He urged an expansion of Southern Oregon's economy into the Asian marketplace.

Both candidates thought education a top priority in Oregon.

Richardson said the state should establish a reserve fund to tide education over when tax revenues decline.

He urged an overhaul of PERS (Public Employee Retirement System), while respecting the existing contracts of those who have already retired.

We need to have future hirees (retirement accounts) more in line with the private sector, he said.

Maxwell also thought a stability fund for education was necessary.

But she said funding for education shouldn't be tied mainly to the caprices of income tax revenues.

Maxwell urged lawmakers to come up with a plan to collect almost &

36;1 billion in uncollected corporate, income and property taxes that would boost state revenues.

Candidate available at open house Jackson County residents can meet candidates for county office Saturday.

The Rogue Valley's League of Women Voters will host the event from 10 a.m. to noon on the grounds of the Medford library, located at Main Street and Oakdale Drive. The public is invited to meet and ask questions of candidates for U.S. Congress and state legislature; county candidates for Circuit Court judge, commissioner, clerk, and sheriff, as well as Medford City Council candidates.

Call 773-4450 for more information.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476, or e-mail