From KTVZ.COM BEND, Ore. -- The fireworks are starting early in the surprising and quickly hot GOP primary race between state Sen. Chris Telfer, R-Bend, and challenger Tim Knopp, as the pair tangled Tuesday in a live radio debate over issues ranging from the income tax “kicker” to legislative redistricting.
Several times during their hour-long first joint appearance on news partner KBND radio, Telfer referred to her “strategic” actions to get the best possible deal for her constituents in a time of a tied House, a slim Democrat majority in the Senate and all Democratic state officeholders. But Knopp said he’d stand his ground against the Democrats and, if unable to prevail at the Capitol, support efforts to put the inheritance tax (which he calls a “death tax”) and a spending cap on the statewide ballot, for voters to decide.
Redistricting – a dry topic to many but of vital importance to the political makeup of the Legislature – brought probably the sharpest exchange of the hour, their first public appearance since Knopp, a former three-time state representative, stepped back into the political ring after several years away from Salem to raise his family.
Host Lori Raab asked Telfer to comment on Knopp’s label of "appalling" on the new House and Senate district maps drawn up by lawmakers – the first time in a century, Telfer noted, that legislators could agree on a map and not leave the final lines to the secretary of state (a Democrat-held post, in 2001 and now).
“I’m not sure it was ‘appalling,’ Telfer said, noting she was one of four lawmakers who drew up the map. “What we heard from the voters was they wanted us to work together,” noting the 50-50 House split, a 16-14 Democratic majority in the Senate and a Democrat as governor and secterary of state.
“We had to get what we can,” Telfer said. “The goal was to pick up a Senate seat, make us more competitive in other seats and not lose ground. That’s what we did.”
Telfer said her District 27, which was the state’s largest, had to be trimmed due to population changes and she “went from a positive advantage of 7 points (Republican) to 3 points.”
But things got testy when the focus turned to the trimming done to House District 54, where Republican Jason Conger knocked off incumbent Democrat Judy Stiegler in 2010.
Telfer noted that Conger won despite a 3.47 percent Democratic voter advantage in Bend, which will, due to the smaller district, go to a 5.8 percent GOP disadvantage. She said that’s better than the whopping 14 percent Democrat advantage District 54 would have gained under that party’s proposal.
“Bend is too large for one House seat,” she said. “We had to chop off some of it.”
Knopp accused Telfer of “engaging in a bit of revisionist history” and pointed to the map drawn up in 2000 by Democratic Secretary of State Bill Bradbury.
Telfer said the new Census meant changes had to happen.
“It had nothing to do with redrawing the lines,” she said. “It had to do with population moving in that’s much more moderate and Democrat.”
Knopp said 10 years ago, when he was in the Legislature, Central Oregon lawmakers “protected each other” and that now Democrats have a bigger advantage than under Bradbury’s “gerrymandering” (artificial drawing of lines to benefit one’s party).
“I think she owes Jason Conger an apology for what she did,” Knopp said.
“The goal was to avoid a secretary of state map,” Telfer said. “Jason has done a great job. He won in a district with 3.47 (percent more Democrats), now it’s 5.8. He ought to be thanking me it’s not 14.8. Jason needs to understand he represents those people, rather than bellyaching” about the result.
Knopp said “a good chunk of the north part of Bend, including Awbrey Butte, which favor Republicans got shaved off” in the redistricting. “It’s just outrageous.”
“The city of Bend is too large for one (House) seat,” Telfer replied. “The map is better than what was being proposed. We ought to move on. Redistricting is not an issue for majority of Oregonians – jobs are.”
(Conger's wife, Amy, quickly took on Telfer for her comments in a Facebook posting, saying, "I do not appreciate my state senator publicly lying about my husband and his good character just because she is losing a debate with her opponent. She might find it "strategic," but I find it "appalling"! Senator Chris Telfer, you have lost my vote.")
Among other testy topics – Telfer’s support of a gas tax increase in the 2009 session. The senator said the major transportation bill “was going to pass almost unanimously,” due in large part to Democrats’ majority, so she “signed on and got $50 million for Central Oregon” in needed, job-creating transportation projects.
She said tourists “pick up a lot” of the gas tax, in terms of revenues.
“The bill was going to pass,” Telfer said. “I wanted to be strategic and get some money for jobs in our construction industry.”
“What she just admitted to,” Knopp replied, “is trading her vote for earmarks. That’s ridiculous. How about standing for principle? In 1999, we had a knock-down. drag-out on the gas tax, and I voted no. The gas tax is high enough already.”
“The fact is,” Telfer said, “the gas tax hadn’t been raised for 40 years, and this brought minor increases that brought a lot of money over here. ... It created a lot of jobs over here. Why would I vote no on a bill (to create jobs)?”
“That’s the difference between us,” Knopp said. “I am not a ‘go along to get along’ politician. I’m going to stand on principles.”
On other topics:
--Telfer, who noted she’s the only CPA in the Senate, said she’s “just learned we (the state) have $660 million net assets. Nobody seems to know where they are. I’m the first ever to ask for a balance sheet.” Knopp said some of those funds might be fee revenue from boards that oversee such professions as contractors, and taking those dollars for other purposes could force them to raise fees. Telfer said they would be “leftover slush funds from fees” that indicate “maybe the fee is too high. They are supposed to cover the cost of service.”
--Telfer said she probably switched from registered Democrat to Republican five or six years ago, and serving on the Bend City Council in a “non-partisan position I never felt the need to go down to the county clerk’s office and switch” affiliations. Knopp said he registered as a Republican in 1983, when he was 18, inspired by his mentor, Ronald Reagan.
--Asked their picks for Republican presidential nominee, Telfer acknowledged she’d been asked to endorse Mitt Romney but told him “I have not made up my mind. … I don’t know the public needs to know. It has nothing to do with my capacity as state senator." Knopp said he, too, hasn’t “completely made up my mind, but my dream ticket is not running – Chris Christie and Marco Rubio. If voting today, I’d probably (back) Rick Santorum. He shares my values more than the other candidates do. That could certainly change, based on what happens” in the next two months before Oregon’s May 15 primary.
As the hour closed, Raab asked the pair about their views on social issues.
Knopp said he’s been pro-life since he was a teen, as most Republicans are, and a “supporter of traditional marriage.”
But Telfer said, “In my four years in the Senate, a social bill has never come before us. Social issues are not before Oregonians – getting the economy turned around, that’s where the issue is.”
“We have a federal law” on abortion, Telfer noted. “Whether I’m pro-life or pro-choice, we have to follow the law. That’s a personal opinion. My job as a senator is to uphold the constitution of the United States and the State of Oregon.”
KBND will replay the program Sunday at 10 a.m.