Column: Differences between Telfer and Knopp

By — John Costa / The Bulletin Published: April 22. 2012 4:00AM PST

At the risk of appearing painfully obvious, Chris Telfer is not Tim Knopp.

And Tim Knopp is not Chris Telfer.

That simplistic distinction is important because these two very competent and experienced politicians are running against each other in the May primary.

It’s fair to say that few, if any, learned political observers predicted that former legislator Knopp, now the executive vice president of the Central Oregon Builders Association, would challenge Telfer, the incumbent Republican senator from Central Oregon.

Or that Knopp’s challenge, which could impact the political calculus in the state Legislature, would draw the support of two Republican representatives: Mike McLane of Powell Butte and Jason Conger of Bend.

Why, after all, would a political party jeopardize incumbency, not to mention spending a lot of money knocking off a sitting senator — unless there is some profound political division between the two?

So far, the accusations and claims of the two are not very informative.

Knopp says Telfer committed the cardinal sin of supporting a statewide vote challenging the permanence of the state’s tax kicker.

Telfer’s supporters say that’s an interesting accusation coming from the one-time prince of referenda.

Telfer’s camp suggests Knopp is a shill for the building industry. Knopp’s fans say Telfer was once a real Democrat and is now a virtual one.

This back and forth ranges across redistricting, job creation, support for the Oregon State University’s expansion in Central Oregon, etc., etc.

In the end, each candidate comes to represent the sum of all pejoratives. And voters are expected to sift through the slings and cast a vote.

That’s not fair to the voters, and it is not fair to the candidates.

Turning the discussion toward what each believes is the role of government elicits a better sense of what each holds to be true. It’s apparent that there are differences. Some are matters of degree, but others are more profound.

Telfer sees the role of government as “enabler.” Whether it is through tax structure, education or protection of citizens, she believes government’s role is to “enable people to be self sufficient.”

It’s a positive view of government.

Perhaps it’s just a matter of tone, but Knopp’s view of the role of government is more restrictive.

Government, he said, “should only be doing that which the private sector can’t do efficiently.”

Telfer does not argue that the government should do everything any more than Knopp is arguing that it should do nothing. Both agree that the government has a role in critical services for, in Knopp’s words, “people who don’t have the means,” or, in Telfer’s words, “people who are disabled.”

But they have different priorities.

To Telfer, the most important function of government is public education, “pre-k through college.” However, she supports extensive reforms. “We have a long way to go,” she adds.

“Public safety,” she believes, “is doing the best it can with the budget it has.”

Knopp believes the top priority of government is public safety. He refers positively to public education but also believes in “options,” such as “private schools, home schools, secular or religious.”

A supporter of charter schools, he believes parents should have more choice. They both think government should be friendlier to business, and they both prefer a more limited role for government in health care and social services.

All the campaign attacks aside, they are both good candidates with similar instincts but different emphasis.

Taxation may be the clearest portal through which to view these two good pubic servants. Knopp sees profligacy; Telfer sees inefficiency. Telfer would comb the budget to make sure every dime the government gets is used well. Knopp would prefer fewer dimes.

At least that is my impression. Hope it helps.

— John Costa is editor-in-chief of The Bulletin. Contact: 541-383-0337, jcosta@bendbulletin.com