Democrat Steve Novick, one of two candidates trying to oust U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., has said he's running because Oregon's working families need someone to fight for them &

"and a fighter needs a hard left hook," joking about his left arm with a hook prosthesis.

Novick, 44, told a small gathering at Southern Oregon University Monday afternoon that he's angry about the state of the nation. He's angry about the U.S. at war in Iraq, global warming, the fact that only a handful of Americans can afford health insurance, that huge corporations are given tax breaks, the out-of-control deficit and that the wealthy only get taxed on the first $100,000 of their earnings.

Novick said he has the vision and determination to turn things around. His first order of business as a member of Congress would be to "get out of the war."

Novick said the U.S. needs to reach out to Iraq's neighboring nations and try to draft a solution to the Iraq situation. "If we try this draft and it fails, then we simply need to leave knowing we tried," he said.

He said many people argue that if the U.S. pulls out of Iraq, there will be a civil war. "Well, guess what folks, there's already a civil war going on in Iraq."

Novick said trade agreements with other countries need to encourage fair labor laws.

"We need to strengthen workers' rights in other nations. That would eliminate cheap labor in China and ameliorate the problem of U.S. jobs going to China."

Novick also said he wanted to see the Internal Revenue Service send thank you cards to every American, with a full accounting of how the government spent their money.

A young woman in the audience asked if he supported gay marriages.

Novick said, "I may lose the election because of this, but I think every right that married people have, domestic partners should also have."

Novick, an environmental attorney and activist, said he also wanted to see stronger carbon emission controls, saying the U.S. needs to stop pandering to the petroleum industry with tax breaks, and start investing in solar, wave and wind energy.

Political experience

Novick, who moved to Cottage Grove from New Jersey with his parents in 1973, graduated from Harvard Law School at 21. Although he's never held an elected political position, he is no stranger to the political scene. He worked eight years for the U.S. Justice Department suing polluters, which eventually led to the Clean Air and Clean Water Act.

Novick was the lead counsel in the Love Canal lawsuit, which the federal government won $129 million against Occidental Chemical. He returned to Oregon as the issues director for two campaigns, including Ted Kulongoski's successful run for governor. He served as executive director of the Center for Constructive Citizen Action, which spearheaded the fight against Bill Sizemore's Measure 91, which would have cut the state budget for schools, health care and public safety by more than 20 percent.

Novick was the force behind Oregon educators suing the Oregon Lottery for overpayments to tavern owners in 1999, was a caucus administrator for senate democrats, policy advisor to a Multnomah County Chair and legislative coordinator for the Oregon Department of Education.

Medford resident Michael Framson said he attended the event at SOU because Novick's environmental work got his attention.

"But after listening to him, I'm impressed with the powerful impact he's already had in this country," he said. "I think he's got the right amount of anger, vision and experience."

Merkley at SOU

Oregon House Speaker Jeff Merkley, who's also vying for Smith's seat, was also at SOU Monday speaking to a government class.

Merkley said the students he met are mostly concerned with global warming and the Iraq war.

The democrat, elected to the Legislature in 1998 and named speaker in 2006, voted for the resolution in 2003 that supported U.S. troops in combat, but said he opposed the war.

Merkley said in a speech at the time that he was "not persuaded that Iraq was a significant threat to the United States."

Today, he has a five-point plan for stability in the region, which includes eliminating permanent U.S. military bases there and engaging Iraq's neighbors in a diplomatic effort to secure peace, particularly Turkey, Iran and Syria.

Merkley is also concerned about global warming. "If we don't address this our planet will change in a very destructive way. We need to make a national effort to change from gasoline powered vehicles to hybrid and electric cars and we need to increase our solar and wind production."

Merkley announced Monday that he just broke the Oregon record for challenger fundraising in the last quarter of 2007.

A press release announced Merkley raised $619,000 that quarter, bringing his total to nearly $1 million since joining the race last August.

"I'm profoundly grateful for the support we've received in just four short months," he said. "These are folks who believe, as I do, that we can only change Washington by changing the people we send there."

Merkley's fundraising efforts represent the best two-quarter totals that a challenger for senate has ever posted in Oregon, according to the press release. Bill Bradbury held the previous record.

Merkley, who was born in Myrtle Creek in 1956, studied international relations at Stanford University and earned a masters degree in public policy from Princeton. He served as executive director of Portland Habitat for Humanity from 1991 until he was elected to the Oregon House of Representative in 1998.

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