Bend businesswoman running for Congress

By Andrew Clevenger The Bulletin

WASHINGTON — Bend businesswoman Aelea Christofferson announced Monday that she is running for Congress in Oregon’s 2nd District.

Christofferson, 61, is seeking the Democratic nomination to vie for the seat currently held by Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River. She has never run for elected office before.

Christofferson is the founder and president of ATL Communications, which helps toll-free numbers reduce their routing costs and helps them re-establish service following disasters.

Christofferson said she is resigning as a board member of Cover Oregon, the state’s beleaguered health exchange, effective immediately. Previously, she had been a member of the Oregon Health Fund board.

While acknowledging that Cover Oregon and the Affordable Care Act aren’t perfect, Christofferson said she wants to continue to advocate on behalf of making health care more widely available and affordable. As a small business owner, she became frustrated with the lack of coverage options for her employees, she said.

Under Obamacare, companies are able to set their contribution and let employees choose their own plans, she said.

Christofferson credited her experiences as a small business owner and the geographic diversity she represented as someone from “the other side of the mountains” with landing her a spot on the Governor’s Committee for Health Care Reform in 2007. From there, she continued on to membership on the boards of the Oregon Health Fund and Cover Oregon.

Christofferson said she has crossed party lines and voted for Walden a decade ago, but he has become so conservative she can no longer support him.

“He began to move more right, and as much of the rest of Congress has, instead of making decisions on individual issues, he votes along party lines,” she said.

Christofferson pointed to Walden’s 49 votes to repeal Obamacare as evidence that he’s no longer working on behalf of the best interests of people in Oregon.

“The problem is he’s not presenting solutions,” she said. “‘No’ is not a solution.”

Christofferson said too much of the coverage of Cover Oregon has focused on the troubled online heath care exchange, which was not ready for its Oct. 1 launch and remains beset by technical problems. Cover Oregon is more than a website, she said. It is a program that is helping provide previously uninsured Oregonians with access to health care.

Walden was the first member of Oregon’s congressional delegation to call for an investigation by the Government Accountability Office of Cover Oregon’s use of more than $300 million in taxpayer funds. Last week, the GAO confirmed it will investigate Cover Oregon.

“Greg Walden works hard every day to get results for Oregonians, and he looks forward to earning the trust of the voters once more this year,” said Walden spokesman Andrew Malcolm, noting that there are other candidates, including Barney Spera of Ashland and Frank Vulliet of Sunriver, running for the Democratic nomination. “If Democratic primary voters decide they want someone responsible for Cover Oregon as their nominee, that is their choice to make.”

Christofferson’s campaign website doesn’t list her party affiliation, and she said she’s not hiding the fact that she’s a Democrat, but trying to avoid hyperpartisanship.

“Whether I’m a Democrat or a Republican is the least important thing in this campaign,” she said. “(Partisanship is) what got the country in the fix it’s in.”

Christofferson even allowed her position on forestry is likely very similar to Walden’s.

“Anybody in Oregon in a public position right now is looking for the same thing,” she said. “We all want to find a way to protect the environment and at the same time do something to help rural communities that have relied on timber.”

Oregon won’t be able to put an end to its timber wars until the groups involved stop taking positions that are non-negotiable, she said.

Christofferson sees jobs as a key issue in the district, and wants to strengthen education efforts so that graduates are better prepared to enter the workforce, she said.

“I have five kids in their 20s, so I have lots of experience with job-seekers,” she quipped.

Christofferson earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from California State University and a master’s in business administration from Golden Gate University. A former president of the Sunriver Chamber of Commerce, she lives in Bend with her husband, Tom Hall.

Christofferson said she wants to return to Washington — she worked briefly as an aide to Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., in her youth — to help find solutions to the country’s problems.

“Congress is broken. I hate to say, (but) it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out,” she said. “This Congress was the least effective Congress in history and has lost the respect of the American people.”

First elected in 1998, Walden is seeking his ninth term in Congress. Klamath County Commissioner Dennis Linthicum is running against him in May’s primary. The filing deadline for May’s primary is today at 5 p.m.

—  Reporter: 202-662-7456, aclevenger@bendbulletin.com

Aelea Christofferson
Aelea Christofferson
Aelea Christofferson, seeking the Democratic nomination