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Spera jumps into District 2 primary race

Barney Spera fulfilled his dream of owning a mansion with a million-dollar view, and now he's got his sights set on a loftier goal — Capitol Hill.

The 83-year-old Ashland resident, who gained some local notoriety for buying a $1.43 million house at an auction in 2008, is running on the Democratic ticket for the District 2 seat now held by Congressman Greg Walden, a Republican from Hood River.

"I'm trying to send a message to him," Spera said. "I think he should be a better leader and pay attention to his constituents and not to special interests."

Spera, formerly mayor of Milbrae, Calif., is running in the May 20 Democratic primary against Aelea Christofferson of Bend and C.F. "Frank" Vulliet of Sunriver.

In the Republican primary, Walden is running against Dennis B. Linthicum of Beatty.

Spera said that when Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, was trashing the Affordable Care Act during the federal government shutdown last October, he was looking for leadership from Walden to offer a better solution and didn't find one forthcoming.

When Walden recently denounced raising the minimum wage, he decided he needed to act.

"I got so damn mad I jumped up and decided to run," he said. "People are barely making it paycheck to paycheck, and Walden was saying that some time in the future they'd get a good job and a good wage. That didn't make any sense."

Spera, who worked in the airline industry for 58 years, said Australia has a full-time minimum wage of $16.37 an hour (the Australian dollar is worth 92 cents to the U.S. dollar), but its unemployment rate hovers around 6 percent. Australia has a tiered minimum wage that starts at $6.03 for those younger than 16 who work part time and increases to more than $16 by the age of 20, according to the Australian Government Fair Work Ombudsman.

The U.S. minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, while Oregon's is $9.25.

Spera said that because the minimum wage in the U.S. is so low, the government is forced to provide a multitude of programs to help the poor make ends meet.

Born in the same year as billionaire Warren Buffett, Spera said he's generally cheap when it comes to expenses, apart from his purchase of "Ashland Manor." Like Buffett, Spera said he's only an occasional user of a cellphone.

Walden is generally regarded as having a pretty safe seat in Congress, and Spera said he realizes it's an uphill battle.

"I have no illusions on this thing," he said. "Greg Walden's an honest, very hard-working congressman."

Spera, who became a sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps and was an Eagle Scout leader, was a labor union leader and has worked with nonprofits over the years.

He was mayor of Milbrae, Calif., from 1972-76, and also served on the City Council there.

Spera moved to Southern Oregon in 1981 and has owned commercial and residential properties in the area, as well as in Hawaii, Arizona and Lake Tahoe.

A rafter, Spera climbed Mount Fuji in Japan at the age of 79, noting it was a tougher climb than Mount McLoughlin.

He's been endorsed by Norman Mineta, former U.S. Secretary of Transportation, who was his friend in high school and served as a groomsman at his wedding.

A gun owner since he was 14, Spera said he favors background checks for anyone who purchases a gun.

He doesn't support the taking of private lands to build a liquefied natural gas pipeline across Southern Oregon.

Andrew Malcolm, spokesman for Walden, said he didn't think there was any significance to the relatively large number of candidates who are vying for the congressman's job.

"I think these things fluctuate from year to year," Malcolm said. "Greg Walden works hard every day to get results for Oregonians."

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