SALEM — Democratic congressional contender Kurt Schrader accused GOP rival Mike Erickson of taking a "cheap shot" during a debate Monday when he criticized Schrader for paying his property taxes late more than a dozen times over the years.
Schrader, a state senator from Canby, complained that Erickson brought up the issue out of the blue during a portion of the debate when they were supposed to be discussing ways to help minorities.
It's unfortunate my opponent took a cheap shot about my personal situation," Schrader said in his closing remarks. "I've always paid my taxes, but maybe like a lot of you I couldn't always do it on time."
Erickson, a Lake Oswego businessman, has raised the late property taxes issue against Schrader in TV ads. He defended bringing it up during Monday night's debate at Willamette University.
"If you can't live within your own budget, how are you going to manage our government's funds?" Erickson said afterward.
Schrader and Erickson are locked in a tough fight to succeed retiring Democratic Darlene Hooley in Oregon's 5th Congressional District.
It had been viewed early on as a wide open seat that might give Republicans a serious shot at picking up a House seat this fall.
Erickson's candidacy has been stung, however, by allegations that he once paid for his girlfriend's abortion and that he tried to disguise a pleasure trip to Cuba as a relief mission — allegations Erickson has denied.
Those issues weren't brought up during Monday night's debate, which also included three minor party contenders — the Libertarian Party's Steve Milligan, Constitution Party contender Douglas Patterson and Pacific Green Party nominee Alex Polikoff.
Instead, Erickson raised the property tax issue against Schrader when a debate panelist asked the candidates to say how they would try to help minorities obtain housing.
Schrader has acknowledged paying his property taxes late 13 times over a 20-year period, saying many families have to juggle paying bills and taking care of tax obligations on time.
The Democratic lawmaker at one point in the debate Monday night accused Erickson of changing his earlier position in which he advocated a crackdown on illegal immigration.
Schrader supports providing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers who acknowledge they have broken the law and pay fines and back taxes. He said Erickson earlier had voiced support for shipping home all people who are in the country illegally.
"He's changed his position. He'll say whatever anyone wants him to say," Schrader said.
Erickson, however, said he's not advocated for mass deportations of undocumented workers. Rather, he said, paperwork "bottlenecks" should be removed so they can go back to Mexico and "get in line and apply to get back here legally."
On a related issue, Erickson hedged when Schrader pressed him to say how he plans to vote on a ballot measure to limit the amount of time children of immigrants can spend in English-as-a-second-language classes.
Erickson said while he believes it's important for those students to learn English as quickly as possible, he said he wants to "look at the details" of Measure 58 before deciding whether to support it. Schrader opposes the measure.