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Candidates differ on school funding plan.

Byline: Diane Dietz The Register-Guard

Rep. Phil Barnhart, who's running for a fourth full term in the Oregon Legislature, is nothing if not consistent.

He's a true blue-state progressive with an unwavering focus on getting more money into public schools, community colleges and universities.

"They're absolutely critical: The most important thing civilization does is to pass along its knowledge and values to the next generation," Barnhart said.

Over the years, his Republican challengers have been consistent, too, lambasting Barnhart for being a spend-happy liberal.

"His approach seems to be - from everything I've seen about him over the years - let's give them more money, give them more money, given them more money," said this election's Republican challenger, Jim Oakley. "The people aren't willing to do that. Let's see if we can find another solution."

Barnhart shrugs off the criticism, saying "of course, it's a stereotype."

"The reality is that we need increased tax fairness. We need to close the loopholes that have been designed to help large, out-of-state businesses and wealthy individuals. We need to close down the corporate kicker and we need to raise the corporate minimum tax to something reasonable," he said.

"You'll notice I'm not talking about any taxes that ordinary people pay," he said.

So this remains the central argument in the race for the House District 11 seat, which encompasses central Lane and Linn counties, taking in east Eugene, Creswell, Pleasant Hill, Coburg, Brownsville, Lebanon and Sweet Home.

Barnhart, who's got a law degree and a doctorate in psychology, brought the school money debate up through the ranks with him over the 13 years of his political career.

It started in the early 1990s before Barnhart - then a practicing psychologist - held elective office. He was moved when he saw the voter-passed Measure 5 tax limitation cause cuts at Eugene schools.

In a 100-teacher lay-off at the Eugene School District, Barnhart's son's fifth-grade teacher got a pink slip (though she was soon rehired to replace a retiring teacher).

"Sometimes things have to give you an emotional shock before you move on them," he said. "That was definitely a big shock to me."

Barnhart got himself elected to the Eugene School Board, where for six years he helped guide schools in a community willing to tax itself to keep school programs whole. Eugene voters, like Barnhart, are consistently willing to tax themselves for education. In recent years, they passed a local option levy to boost school spending and a measure for citywide after-school programs for children.

Barnhart soon decided the ultimate solution to school funding rested at the state level, so he got himself elected in 1998 to a heavily Democratic House district representing South Eugene.

He thought it would take a single legislative session for him to "fix" eduction funding. "I was naive," he said.

But in 2000, along came redistricting, which gave Barnhart a tougher district for a blue Eugene representative to win. It skirted Eugene and Springfield, took in fields and hills and a half-dozen small towns. The new district's voters are 42 percent Democratic, 35 percent Republican and 23 percent unaffiliated.

But Barnhart said his message about education spending still resonates. People in Pleasant Hill and Creswell want good schools, he said, and they're willing to pay for them.

For the past quarter century, the pendulum has swung away from government spending, Barnhart said, and that was good in some ways. "It has forced the government to do the auditing and accountability, so that people will understand that the government spends its money wisely and well - and where it doesn't, we fix it," he said.

Oakley, who's acquainted with the schools through his wife, who's a teacher at Agnes Stewart Middle School in Springfield, doesn't see a new willingness for more taxes and more government spending.

"The people of Oregon have several times said, `We don't want higher taxes.' At this point, I'm not looking at raising taxes in any way in order to fund the schools - until we take a really hard look at where is the money going that we already have"

Oakley advocates a hard-nosed accounting of all Oregon government departments, including schools.

"There's always waste when you have a big system, and the school system statewide is big," he said. "I would like to see an analysis of where is the money going and what do we need to do with that money."

Like GOP gubernatorial candidate Ron Saxton, Oakley says the state could, for example, save on meals for inmates in the state prison system.

"Do we have enough money if we just reallocate it?" he said. "People are concerned about taxation. They feel like they're being taxed too much, or enough. They don't want to be taxed anymore."

PHIL BARNHART, 60 Party: Democratic Political history: Elected to the Eugene School Board in 1994 and 1998; Elected to the Oregon House in 2000, 2002, 2004. Key endorsements: Oregon Education Association, Oregon League of Conservation Voters, Lane County District Attorney Doug Harcleroad Employment: Lane County assistant district attorney, 1972-1973; law practice in the 1970s; psychologist through the 1980s and 1990s. Now, works exclusively as legislator. Education: Graduated South Eugene High School, 1964; bachelor's in history at University of Oregon, 1968; law degree, UO Law School, 1971; doctorate, California School of Professional Psychology, 1982. Family: Wife, Flossie; two grown children who live in Eugene. Contact info: www.philbarnhart.com/ or (541) 484-5119

JIM OAKLEY, 57 Party: Republican Political history: Served four years on the Pleasant Hill Fire Department Board in the 1980s. Key endorsements: Lane County Republican Party Employment: Emerald People's Utility District, 1984-2005. Now works as consultant to private utilities. Education: Graduated Grants Pass High School, 1967; degree in civil engineering, Oregon Institute of Technology, 1969; bachelor's in business management, Linfield College, 2002. Family: Wife, Susan; seven grown children Pastime: Just bought a farm with pigs and horses; he's soon to buy a milk cow. Contact info: www.jimoakleyforstaterep.com or 746-9609
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Title Annotation:Government
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Oct 10, 2006
Words:992
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