Patrick Starnes, running as an Independent for Oregon governor, thinks every political candidate should spend time on a school board.
“As a school board member, you hire and fire teachers, close schools … you really learn the aches and pains of the community,” he said in a recent interview at The Dalles Chronicle.
Starnes has served on school boards for more than a decade.
“Every politician in Salem should deal with unfunded mandates and increasingly unstable funding,” he said.
He sees the “degradation” of Oregon schools as a “tragedy for our youth and our future.”
A cabinet maker by trade for 30 years, Starnes believes Oregon can do more with wood products, and wants to see an increase in manufacturing jobs.
“We can build more finished wood products, manufactured in Oregon — rather than shipping raw materials out of the state — by removing barriers to, and providing incentives for, local businesses,” he said.
As an Independent, Starnes is hopeful; noting that 38 percent of registered voters in the state are unaffiliated, compared to 36 percent registered as Democrat and 26 percent as Republican.
He hopes to get there without the taint of “big money,” he said. “I’m the only candidate that has restricted donations to $100. I’m role modeling campaign reform — when we win, we will show that it can work.”
Starnes, 56, who lives in Brownsville, is one of three Independent candidates in the governor race. He is on the ballot with Skye Allen of Portland and Dan (Mr. P) Pistoresi of Lincoln City.
Democrat candidates include the incumbent, Gov. Kate Brown of Portland; Ed Jones of Redmond; and Candace Neville of Eugene.
Republican candidates include Keenan Bohach of Keizer; Knute Buehler of Bend; Sam Carpenter of Bend; Bruce Cuff of Lyons; Jonathan Edwards III of Gresham; Brett Hyland of Portland; Jeff Smith of Elgin; David Stauffer of Portland; Jack Tracy of Lebanon and Greg Wooldridge of Portland. Brown and Buehler are the best-known candidates.
Campaign reform is a big issue, said Starnes. “Everyone recognizes the elephant in the room, and that it’s wrecking our democracy.”
In fact, campaign reform has become Starnes number one priority if elected, as he sees changing the system as the only way to clean up corruption in politics.
“There are states with examples of clean elections,” he said. “It’s not a matter of freedom of speech, it’s volume of speech. A single donation of one quarter or half a million dollars is an awful lot of speech.”
He would also like to see Oregon adopt open primaries.
An open primary is a primary election that does not require voters to be affiliated with a political party in order to vote for partisan candidates.
The highest voted candidate in each party then proceeds to the runoff election.
“Everyone pays for ballots to go out; everyone should be able to vote in primaries,” he explained. “It should be automatic, not by request.”
The next governor will be able to influence redistricting, a task Starnes believes should be done by a nonpartisan commission rather than by the legislature. “We don’t need big parties gerrymandering these districts to their benefit,” he said.
Starnes was recently in The Dalles as part of a campaign run through the Gorge and northeast Oregon, with a final stop in Enterprise for a candidate forum.
He grew up in Oregon and went to Winston-Dillard Schools while his father worked at the particle board mill to support the family, according to starnesfororegon.com. He apprenticed in fine furniture making and cabinetry before attending college.
His background has given him an understanding of the issues facing rural areas of the state, said Starnes.
“As a rural school board member, we don’t get the money the urban districts do,” he said.
Some have suggested his candidacy could become a spoiler in the election, Starnes said, and he is fine with that.
“We hope to pull from both sides. Am I a spoiler? Sure, we hope to spoil it for both sides.”