Byline: The Register-Guard
A lot of folks thought state Rep. Phil Barnhart was in deep trouble when Oregon's legislative districts were redrawn two years ago.
The core of Barnhart's old district was south Eugene, where the liberal Democrat enjoyed strong support and was well known as a longtime member of the Eugene School Board. Redistricting divided south Eugene, putting part in District 11, which includes swaths of Linn and east Lane counties and the communities of Brownsville, Coburg, Creswell, Marcola and Pleasant Hill.
It turned out that Barnhart, an impassioned advocate of education and health care, was a natural fit for this diverse new district. He overwhelmingly defeated more conservative opponents in the primary and in the general elections.
In the Nov. 2 general election, Barnhart faces another conservative opponent in Michael Spasaro, a retired Drug Enforcement Administration agent from the Lebanon area who is making his first try for elective office.
Spasaro says his top priorities are protecting public safety and education. But he offers no strategies other than giving those areas top precedence in budgeting, a status they already enjoy, and to "stimulate the economy," a goal that is universally shared but difficult to achieve.
Barnhart, a lawyer who made a mid-life career change to become a psychologist, estimates that public schools need another $1 billion to meet the state's Quality Education Model. While conceding that's currently out of the question, Barnhart believes school funding can be increased if the economy continues to rebound.
While ruling out new revenue measures given voters' recent rejections of Measures 28 and 30, Barnhart believes the state can bolster revenues by closing loopholes for corporations and wealthy individuals, and by bumping up the corporate minimum tax. …