Education is the base holding up Jim Torrey’s campaign platform for Oregon state senator in District 7 in the 2006 election.
He said he wants public education to start at a younger age, higher education to be more affordable to those who qualify and ultimately, that education to be used as means to strengthen Oregon’s economy.
Torrey, mayor of Eugene from 1997 to 2005, is a Republican. He said people from outside the city have a difficult time believing that. Although District 7 has been predominantly Democratic in the past, he’s confident he has enough support in the area to have a good chance at winning the seat.
State Sen. Vicki Walker (D-Eugene) may be running for the same seat if she decides not to run for governor.
Torrey, 65, attended the University as a business major, but he was forced to drop out after a year and one term because he didn’t have enough money to continue.
“I want to make sure that all Oregonians that qualify have an opportunity to participate; I don’t want to see our young people lose the chance to be successful in their lives because they do not have the financial where-with-all to accomplish that,” he said. “We are going to have to find ways to recognize the importance of higher education, and it frankly returns a lot of dollars to our state.”
Torrey is anti-abortion and said he believes in equal rights for same-sex couples, but he does not support gay marriage.
He has worked with the University on a number of different projects in the past.
He urges students to talk to ASUO members who worked with him when he was mayor and hear what they have to say about him.
“I think they will find out that I was available, while not always agreeing with every one of their (ASUO’s) positions, they knew they could always come talk to me, and I gave them a fair opportunity to get their concerns heard,” he said.
He also said that in many instances he worked with students to bring about what they had asked for.
Public Policy, Planning and Management Department Head Ed Weeks said Torrey worked with his department on a number of projects in the past. One such endeavor was the City of Eugene’s Growth Management Study, which Weeks said was a very broad and deep process utilizing public participation. Torrey was the principle sponsor and architect of the study, which set the tone for planning and development in Eugene over the next nine years, Weeks said.
“It shows to me an impressive degree of respect for citizens,” he said.
Torrey said he spent a great deal of time working with smaller communities in Oregon when he was mayor and used the University to reach out to them in an attempt to find ways to make the cities economically stable and viable.
“One of the best awards I received was being recognized by the PPPM school as being Oregon’s Outstanding Volunteer,” Torrey said. “I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve been in meetings with Dave Frohnmayer where I have to say to people that aren’t from Eugene ‘remember, it’s not the University of Oregon in Eugene; it’s the University of Oregon.’ That’s important.”
Torrey is more concerned with elementary school than he is with higher education. He said that if no more revenue is generated, the best thing that could be done with the money Oregon already has is extend public schooling to 3- and 4-year-olds and make kindergarten full-day.
“We’re entering into a new world where the competitors for my 5-year-old granddaughter – the job she’s going to want when she’s 25 – won’t just be surrounding this state, they’ll be in Asia, they’ll be in other places in the world, and what is it that we have to do to compete? We must start our children earlier,” he said.
Torrey said one of the main problems is the number of non-English speaking children in the classrooms.
“In the United States we have the responsibility of educating every child, whether that child is in our country legally or illegally,” he said.
When some of the foreign children enter the first grade without much interaction with other kids and basic knowledge before-hand, he said, “it forces us to lower the common denominator for education of all of our children… it’s just a fact of life. It takes an awful lot of time for some of these non-English speaking students to be cared for by the teachers in their classroom, and when they’re being cared for by these teachers, they are taking away from the other students in the classroom who could be moving faster.”
He believes that if the children start school earlier, they will do better when introduced to an English-speaking first grade classroom.
Torrey said it will cost a lot of money to start every Oregon child’s education earlier, but “it will be a tremendous success and it will get a tremendous return on that investment.”
He said it’s the most reasonable and fair approach to economic development, and if Oregon has the best workforce, then large companies will want to bring jobs, and people who already live in the state will be able to take advantage of that workforce to create new products.
“If Oregon is a great place for kids, it will be a great place for everyone,” Torrey said.
Good jobs generate tax revenue, children will have safe places to be and even senior citizens will benefit because they won’t have to dig deeper into their wallets to pay for additional property taxes, he said.
“First thing I plan to do is hopefully serve as a change agent. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again with the same results. That’s what we’ve been doing in Salem for session after session after session,” Torrey said. “What I believe the major problem is that there are really well meaning people on both sides of the isle – both Republicans and Democrats – and my objective is going to be to find people who are willing to set aside their partisan differences and focus on certain key issues.”
He said the first issues that should be focused on are education and increasing the number of quality jobs in the state.
“They really go hand in hand,” he said.
When Torrey started running for public office 12 years ago, he said he wanted to have the community be the kind of place his grandchildren would want and be able to live in. Now he wants to bring that same objective to the state senate.
He said that rather than give incentives like tax breaks to big companies in order to bring them to Oregon, he would rather take that money and put it into schools which will create a stronger workforce, and that in itself will attract new businesses.
“I’m a proponent of a quality environment; there will be times that I won’t always agree with the most green of the greens, but the city of Eugene is a perfect example of a community that has these opposing points of view, very strong environmental stance and in many instances a very strong pro-business stance,” he said. “The fact is these two groups always end up keeping Eugene a place where people want to live.”
According to the Eugene Weekly, Torrey faced criticism from environmentalists and other city planners for his support of the West Eugene Parkway project, which proposes to build a route through the endangered wetlands west of Eugene.
Torrey said Eugene needs the road and he has told people for a long time that if they show him another responsible solution to the problem, he would consider it, but as of today, no one has showed him an alternative.
Torrey has been a coach for Kidsports for 37 years and is currently volunteering as the organization’s executive director. He fathered four children and has f
ive grandchildren, one of whom he took on a recent trip to India to observe the country’s school system.