Eight of the 11 U.S. District 2 State Representative candidates participated at Thursday’s political forum at the La Grande Middle School.

The eight candidates expressed their displeasure with the incumbent, Greg Walden, many saying he was out of touch with his constituents.

Michael Byrne, Eric Burnette, Jenni Neahring, Jim Crary, Jamie McLeod-Skinner, Randy Pollock, Tim White and Raz Mason are all running for the position against Walden and participated in the forum. The audience submitted questions to the candidates and not all the candidates were asked the same questions.

Besides Randy Pollock, who is running as a Republican, the participating candidates were Democrats.

One of the questions asked to half the candidates in the two-hour forum was how they would approach the current bipartisan situation in a seemingly fractured country.

Crary said he has worked extensively with contract negotiations for many years and he knows how to to negotiate successfully.

“One side doesn’t get everything they want, but one side gives something and gets something, and the other does the same,” Crary said. “That’s how I did it and it worked. We have got to get back to the way it used to be.”

Crary added, if elected, he would answer his phone five hours every week so that the constituents could talk to him directly.

“That’s what I’ll bring to Congress,” he said.

Neahring said she too has a background that will help in this situation.

“I’ve been practicing palliative care for the last six years,” she said. “As a palliative care doctor, there are really complicated cases. (Often) when I walked into (patients’) rooms, they were emotional, they were angry and sometimes they were not talking to their own family and didn’t want to talk to me. I got them to talk about their values and goals. Generally, we find that people have shared goals and values.”

Burnette said he doesn’t have a lot of faith in the current political system.

“The change starts here,” he said. “The way we break this polarization is by electing people who genuinely care. If we start electing people who care about people, we’ll make a huge difference.”

Byrne said being a Republican or Democrat shouldn’t matter.

“I’m sick of the status quo,” he said. “I’m running as an American. We’re all here together. We have the same issues we have to deal with. There is no one looking out for the normal person. As long as people see themselves as Republican or Democrat, we won’t get anywhere.”

Byrne said he is running as a Democrat because Walden is a Republican. If Walden had been registered as a Democrat, Byrne said he would’ve ran as a Republican.

“We need to start running as American and we need to elect people who believe the same thing,” Byrne said.

The other half of the candidates were asked about their thoughts on gun control.

McLeod-Skinner said more needs to be done to regulate guns.

“Taking care of our families and kids is our priority,” she said. “The number one thing students are afraid of right now is getting shot.”

She questions whether there needs to be military grade weapons and who can have access to them.

“I think there are a lot of common sense, mutual agreements (that can be met) and loopholes that the majority of folks agree (need to be fixed). The key thing is to get folks together. We keep failing on moving forward in this legislation. We need to be able to talk together about this.”

Pollock said the National Firearms Act of 1934 banned machine guns — and that’s what an assault rifle is, he said.

He said in the state of Virginia, those on parole and probation cannot possess a firearm and if they do then they get five years of prison time. And it adds five years every time they break that.

White said he was going to march on Saturday for the March for our Lives, a national demonstration to gain more regulations on guns.

“My sign will read, ‘Enough is enough.’ Ban assault (weapons), multi clips, bump stocks, and there should be a 10-day waiting period on background checks,” he said.

White said he has had people in this district come up to him who have said they are hunters but support banning assault weapons.

“They said, ‘Those guns (aren’t for hunting) animals. They (are for hunting) people,’” White said. “I am tired of picking up the paper and seeing children getting shot. The kids are saying grown-ups aren’t doing their jobs.”

Mason, who is a teacher in District 2, said she has talked to her students about this topic.

“This is something I consider very important,” she said. “That being said, I am a gun owner. This is an emotional issue. Our survival mode kicks in.”

Mason said most of the people who have shot students have mental health related issues.

“We need to have a clear discussion, which is evidenced-based, about this topic,” she said. “There are things we can do that (do not involve) taking away people’s guns. People want to be able to protect their families and communities. We need to talk more about that.”

See complete story in Monday's Observer