House Dist. 54 candidates square off in early debate

Democrat Wilhelm, Republican Buehler talk economy, marijuana

Decision 2014: Wilhelm, Buehler square off

BEND, Ore. - The two candidates fighting for Central Oregon's seat in the Oregon House squared off Tuesday night during a debate at Bend's Volcanic Theatre Pub.

Come November, either Republican doctor Knute Buehler or Democratic business owner Craig Wilhelm will serve the High Desert's District 54, which encompasses Bend.

During the debate, both men said they are focusing their campaigns on education, jobs and the economy.

"We need to diversify our economy. We can't rely just on the service industry and tourism," Wilhelm said. "I'd like to see some incentives on access to capital. I'd love to see some incentives on export assistance."

And the economy came up plenty at the event, hosted by the Bend Chamber of Commerce. Buehler said he believes entrepreneurism can drive Bend's economic recovery.

"Bend should really lead the way so this region and the state is an economic powerhouse," Buehler said. "I think we can see what's happened here, with regards to new sources of start-up capital through the Bend Venture Fund. I think those kinds of things can provide a great model for the rest of Oregon."

Neither candidate has held public office. Buehler won the GOP nomination but lost the 2012 race for secretary of state against Democrat incumbent Kate Brown.  Wilhelm has spent a good chunk of his career in the military.

Both men offered similar views on the importance of establishing OSU-Cascades, fixing the state's troubled health care system and making mental health a higher priority.

They also addressed Bend's struggle with available and affordable housing.

Buehler warned that a balance of healthy development should be struck.

"I think when we have a mismatch between supply and demand, those are the kinds of problems that start to develop," he said.  "I think we need to find solutions to those in a smart and sustainable way, so that we preserve the beauty of Bend."

Wilhelm said the issue ultimately lies with the city, but legislators can cut back on barriers to development.

"The biggest thing in the Legislature that we can do is make sure there is a streamlined process for land use approvals," Wilhelm said.

Other topics included the fall ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana.

"I am concerned about the way it will be written, " Wilhelm said. "But if it's going to pass -- education needs funding. What better way to have a stable funding stream than marijuana?"

Buehler agreed that taxing and regulating the plant is the best way control marijuana, but said it's too soon for Oregon to take that step.

"We have a great experiment going on, fortunately -- Washington and Colorado," Buehler said. "Let's see how they do, let's learn from them and reevaluate after a few years."

After the modified presidential-style debate, each candidate was allowed to ask a question of his opponent.

Buehler asked Wilhelm why he failed to vote in 38 percent of local elections from 2008 to 2013, to which Wilhelm responded he thought that number was inaccurate. Wilhelm did, however, admit he occasionally failed to vote when spending time working overseas.

"In my business, I traveled quite extensively in areas that didn't have a mailbox," Wilhelm said. "So I should have planned better."

Wilhelm then asked Buehler if he would leave the  the job after two years for loftier goals: "We all know you ran for secretary of state. We know you have aspirations to be governor.".

Buehler replied, "The office is not important to me, it's solving problems. The nice thing about being a physician and someone that is representing this city is that I can solve problems at the individual level and also at the community level."

Whoever wins this fall will take the seat previously held by Republican Jason Conger, who staged an unsuccessful bid for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate, won by Monica Wehby.

By clicking Submit users are agreeing to follow the Terms of Service
comments powered by Disqus

Most Popular Stories