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Yetter challenges Bentz for Congress

Democrat Joe Yetter, left, and Republican Cliff Bentz are running for U.S. Congress in the 2nd Congressional District.

U.S. Representative Cliff Bentz, a Republican, is facing challenger Joe Yetter, a Democrat, in a contest over who will represent the sprawling 2nd Congressional District that includes Jackson and Josephine counties, plus Central and Eastern Oregon.

They offered differing views and some overlapping ideas on issues that include wildfire and smoke, inflation, housing and homelessness, health care, abortion and Social Security.

Forests, smoke and fire

Bentz, a lawyer and farmer, said there needs to be more thinning of overstocked forests that have too many trees per acre.

“When it comes to the most important issues to Southern Oregonians, fire and smoke have to be really, really close to the top,” he said. “That’s why I’ve spent so much time meeting with different folks and trying to figure out how to get back in the woods to reduce the amount of fuel stacking up there.”

Bentz said the Oregon Department of Forestry fights wildfires more aggressively than the U.S. Forest Service and should be given more power to fight fires on Forest Service land.

ODF protects private land, including private timberland, plus U.S. Bureau of Land Management land.

Yetter, a doctor and farmer, said tiny smoke particles go from the lungs into the blood vessels, and then to the heart, brain and other organs.

Yetter said he wants to see more cooperation among federal, state and local agencies that fight fires, plus thinning and controlled burns to reduce fuel loads.

“There needs to be more cutting out of fuels and salable lumber where it makes sense. It needs to be local and science-based,” Yetter said.

Bentz said thinning trees improves the health of forests and can also lead to more runoff of water, which is needed for irrigation and cities.

Water

Bentz said he would like to see more storage of water in reservoirs, the recharging of underground aquifers, treatment and reuse of sewage water and enforcement against illegal marijuana grows that use stolen water.

Bentz said he doesn’t advocate letting streams and rivers run dry, but he wants a more balanced allocation of water between people and fish.

Bentz said he supports federal funding for piping irrigation canals to reduce seepage and evaporation, but he said he voted against a massive federal infrastructure bill that included piping funding because it was loaded with overspending.

Yetter said he supports piping, conservation, efficient irrigation methods, like drip irrigation, and more planting of crops that use less water.

“We’re in a historic drought that will only get worse. We have to manage our resources better,” he said.

Homelessness

Yetter said Oregon is facing a crisis of homelessness, a housing shortage and a lack of homes people can afford. He said the lack of housing, a shortage of jobs that pay enough, mental health issues, substance abuse and domestic violence play a role in homelessness.

Yetter said reducing fuels in forests would generate lumber for building, and adopting universal health care in the U.S. would mean better access to mental health care and substance abuse treatment.

Bentz said Oregon needs more affordable housing options, including RV parks. The state and cities need to ease regulations to allow the development of more RV parks, he said.

“Nobody wants to consign anybody to an RV park for the rest of their days, but it’s way better than sleeping in your car,” Bentz said.

He said communities should research and replicate successful models for helping homeless people, including one he visited where homeless people were divided into different categories and got help based on their specific issues — whether that was drug use or being a family with kids trying to find housing.

Bentz said the cost of housing is going up even higher because of skyrocketing interest rates.

Inflation

Bentz said he talks to people everywhere who are concerned about inflation, including the rising cost of groceries, gas, diesel and natural gas. Higher diesel prices mean the cost of trucking products goes up. People are going to see higher natural gas prices this winter as they try to heat their homes, Bentz said.

“The top issue on everybody’s list is inflation,” he said.

Bentz said runaway government spending pushed by Democrats and President Joe Biden has helped spur inflation. He said the current administration has unfortunate energy policies and he wants the U.S. to produce more oil and gas.

Unionized workers at ports are slowing the flow of goods into the U.S. Meanwhile, some people are choosing not to work at all, Bentz said.

“In Portland, perfectly able-bodied people are shooting up drugs. There are encampments all along the freeway,” he said.

Yetter said he supports strengthening the supply chain by investing in roads, bridges, airports and more computer chip production within the United States.

Health care

One major source of inflation is the continually rising cost of health care and prescription drugs. Yetter faulted Bentz for voting against a bill, which eventually passed, that gives Medicare some powers to negotiate drug prices.

Bentz said giving Medicare the power to negotiate drug prices is tricky. He said pharmaceutical companies that invest in research need to be able to make a profit off the medications they create.

Bentz said medical malpractice reform and more use of telehealth visits are some of the ways to control health care costs.

Bentz said he opposes government-provided universal health care because it would cost trillions of dollars.

“My dad used to say, ‘If you think health care is expensive, wait until it’s free.’ I think that pretty well says it. I am absolutely opposed to universal health care. The numbers I have heard are in the many trillions of dollars to pay for it,” Bentz said.

Yetter noted the U.S. spends nearly 20% of its gross domestic product on health care.

“Other countries get better outcomes and healthier people for half of what we spend,” he said.

Social Security

Yetter said he wants to shore up Social Security and Medicare by allowing taxes on a person’s full income. He said it’s not fair that millionaires and billionaires like Amazon founder Jeff Bezos don’t pay the taxes on their full income.

Social Security and Medicare taxes are currently collected on about the first $150,000 of a person’s annual income, and are not collected on higher amounts. The threshold changes slightly each year, according to the federal government.

Bentz said his first reaction in all situations is to oppose new taxes, but everything has to be discussed when it comes to dealing with Social Security and Medicare’s unfunded obligations.

“I absolutely want to protect those programs. The question is how to do it. They are absolutely essential to everybody. The challenge is in making sure they don’t fail,” Bentz said.

Abortion

On the issue of abortion, Bentz said he is pro-life but thinks abortion should be allowed to preserve the health or life of the mother. He opposes exceptions to allow abortion in cases of rape or incest.

Asked if a 13-year-old girl impregnated by her biological father should be allowed to have an abortion, Bentz said perhaps she could qualify under an exemption to preserve her health.

“What you would be doing is asking the physician, ‘Is this something that a 13-year-old should or could go through?’” Bentz said.

Bentz said he wants to focus on solutions like contraception that drive down the number of unwanted pregnancies.

Bentz said he doesn’t support a national ban on abortion because the issue should be left to the states.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that established a constitutional right to an abortion. The ruling returns the issue to the states to decide, and about half have already or are expected to ban or severely restrict abortion. Oregon has among the strongest laws in the nation to protect abortion access.

Yetter said Bentz is out of step with Oregonians on abortion.

“I don’t think Cliff Bentz represents Oregon values when he’s adamantly, rabidly against choice,” Yetter said.

Yetter said he supports contraception and education to reduce unwanted pregnancies. He said when women do want to get pregnant, they should have access to pre-conception medical care, plus care during and after pregnancy so families have the best outcomes possible.

Yetter said he wants Congress to adopt laws to protect abortion rights plus other freedoms like gay marriage that could be threatened by today’s conservative Supreme Court.

2020 presidential election

On the issue of who won the 2020 presidential election, Bentz said Biden won the election. But Bentz said the election “was bought, not stolen.”

Former President Donald Trump used the slogan “Stop the Steal” to encourage people to oppose Biden taking office. Investigations and court cases found no evidence of widespread voter fraud that would have changed the results of the election. Biden won more popular and electoral college votes than Trump.

Bentz said Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg donated hundreds of millions of dollars to support public elections. Bentz said about two-thirds of the money went to Democrat-majority states while one-third went to Republican-majority states. That boosted voting, with an advantage for Democrats, Bentz said.

According to multiple media reports, Mark Zuckerberg and his wife did donate $450 million to nonprofits that provided grants to elections offices across the nation for things like extra staffing, drop boxes, security, expanded early voting sites and extra equipment to process votes more quickly.

An analysis by APM Reports, a nonpartisan investigative reporting organization, found election-aid grants had no clear impact on who turned out to vote and didn’t lead to consistently higher voter turnout in areas that got grants versus those that didn’t. Voter turnout across the nation was higher in 2020 than during the 2016 presidential election between Trump and Hillary Clinton.

A violent crowd stormed the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6, 2021, in an effort to disrupt the certification of the results of the 2020 election won by Biden. After the crowd was cleared, Bentz voted to object to the election results from Pennsylvania, a state that backed Biden.

In a written statement the next day, Bentz said he condemned the actions of the rioters and was committed to the peaceful transfer of power to Biden. Bentz said he shared the frustrations of many people upset with the U.S. electoral college system.

Yetter said Bentz was wrong to join those members of Congress who voted against accepting election results.

“Cliff Bentz voted to overturn democracy just a few hours after the seditionists attacked the Capitol,” Yetter said.

Yetter said he wants Congress to approve voting rights legislation and also expand vote-by-mail across the country.

“We need to ensure election integrity and make sure majority votes determine the winner,” Yetter said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.