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Clear differences in House District 6 race

In the race for House District 6, the candidates offer different backgrounds, campaign approaches and stands on some major issues.

Democrat Michelle Blum Atkinson, born and raised in Medford, and Republican Kim Wallan, a 32-year resident of Medford, are vying for the seat held by Republican Sal Esquivel for the last 14 years. After seven terms, Esquivel opted not to run again. District 6 encompasses most of the city of Medford.

Blum Atkinson lists her occupation as “non-profit leadership,” has not held elected office before and has accepted only limited PAC money to finance her campaign. Wallan is an attorney who has served on the Medford School Board and is currently on the Medford City Council. She is accepting PAC funding.

Blum Atkinson’s major endorsements have come from the Oregon Education Association, Oregon AFL-CIO, Oregon School Employees Association and Oregon League of Conversation Voters. Wallan’s endorsements include the National Federation of Independent Business, Oregonians for Food & Shelter, Builders Association of Southern Oregon and the Oregon Chiefs of Police Association.

The Elect Michelle Blum Atkinson committee has raised $60,270 in cash and in-kind contributions, which includes a $20,000 loan from the candidate herself. She has received $2,150 from private out-of-state donors and $6,750 in contributions from political action groups, including Citizen Action Political Education, Women’s Investment Network and the Jackson County Democratic Central Committee.

Blum Atkinson has spent nearly $49,000, according to the Oregon Secretary of State on Thursday.

Blum Atkinson co-founded Libraries for All, which helped prevent library closures, and serves on the Kids Unlimited Academy School Board. She is also on the Jackson County Library Advisory Committee and on the board of the Family Nurturing Center.

The Friends of Kim Wallan group has received $84,208 in cash and in-kind contributions, including $46,150 in PACs representing financial, hospital, utility, timber and agricultural interests and $11,000 in out-of-state contributions from business and industry corporations, including Weyerhaeuser, Koch Industries, AT&T and Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturing Association. The Chamber PAC was the biggest donor with a $10,000 contribution.

Blum Atkinson says she’s not blowing her campaign budget on expensive television or radio advertising. Instead, she’s “blowing up” Facebook, Instagram and Twitter reaching out to millennials and canvassing neighborhoods and the downtown Medford business district aboard her electric scooter. Wallan’s campaign expenditures include the gamut: billboards, field and lawn signs, social media, and print and television advertising

Wallan who represents Ward 4 on the Medford City Council, is the current president of the Medford Urban Renewal Agency and sits on the boards of Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development, the Hospital Facilities Authority, Habitat for Humanity and the Rogue Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Wallan expressed no apologies for accepting PAC funds. Although she insists on not favoring special interests, she doesn’t see the PACs as nameless, faceless entities.

“They are real people, with real issues, real concerns,” she says. “I’ve met them personally. They are affected by the same issues that affect all of us at the local level.”

In an effort to prevent House and Senate Democrats from gaining a supermajority in the legislature, Wallan’s campaign has been fortified with a $5,750 in-kind contribution from the No Supermajorities PAC, $3,626 from Promote Oregon Leadership and $7,000 from campaign funds of Republicans running in races in neighboring districts.

The Committee to Elect Mike McLane alone pumped $5,000 into Wallan’s campaign. McLane, the House majority leader, represents District 55 which includes a tip of northern Jackson County, along with Deschutes, Crook, Klamath and Lake counties.

Wallan has spent nearly $67,000, according to the Oregon Secretary of State on Thursday.

Wallan says she’s proud of the fact that she has the endorsement of Esquivel, “the man who held the seat for 14 years” and also cites the AG-PAC – “the folks who actually grow food” – as supporters.

While Blum Atkinson and Wallan disagree on many issues – including environmental issues such as cap and trade policies to prevent pollution and building the Jordan Cove pipeline – both place improving Medford schools, building the affordable housing inventory, and working with state and federal forest and fire agencies to tackle solutions to smoky, choke-filled summers at the top of their agenda if given the green light to Salem.

Both candidates would like to see Measure 98 fully funded so that career and technical education programs provide students with training and skills to supplant a labor force depleted by the exodus of building contractors, subcontractors, electricians and plumbers during the 2008 recession.

Crushing college debt and low-paying jobs make obtaining housing unaffordable and health benefits unattainable, says Blum Atkinson.

Jobs in the building industry as well as in alternative energy, such as solar and wind, would give a much-needed boost to young families, she says.

Wallan believes the housing shortage is due to several factors; the shallow labor pool is just one issue. Overly stringent building codes and land use laws also play a role, she says.

“All that can be changed, if we have the will to do so,” she says.

Funding for mental health and drug addiction treatment programs are high on Blum Atkinson’s list. She says she’s seen mental health, drug and homeless problems spoil the Medford of her childhood.

“This is not a partisan problem,” she says.

The Public Employee Retirement System has been one of Wallan’s talking points throughout the campaign.

“It’s crippling, unsustainable,” she notes, and accounts for a large percent of school and municipal budgets.

“We have ways to address this constitutionally,” she says. “I will not shy away from restructuring PERS.”

While out canvassing, Blum Atkinson used her Smartphone to register voters before the Oct. 16 deadline, noting she registered 20 new “very enthused” voters on Oct. 13.

“There’s usually not much engagement during mid-term elections. But, people, especially the younger generation, are very engaged this time around.”

Reach Grants Pass freelance writer Tammy Asnicar at tammyasnicar@q.com.

Michelle Blum Atkinson, left, and Kim Wallan