Bend-La Pine School Board member Cheri Helt and Bend City Councilor Nathan Boddie had pain-free primaries. But hours after election returns posted, the race to replace Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, began in earnest when Helt announced that three members of the Bend City Council had endorsed her over Boddie.
Helt, a Republican, and Boddie, a Democrat, ran unopposed in their primary campaigns for the Bend-based 54th House District. It’s a crucial race for both political parties because Democrats need to pick up one more House seat to achieve a supermajority that allows them to pass new taxes without Republican votes.
Bend Mayor Casey Roats and councilors Justin Livingston and Bill Moseley endorsed Helt, citing her time on the school board, efforts to increase school funding by reforming Oregon’s Public Employees Retirement System and experience running a small business. Bend City Council positions are nonpartisan, but Roats, Livingston and Moseley are registered Republicans.
“I’m thrilled that leaders of this caliber who know both candidates well would honor me with their confidence, trust and endorsement,” Helt said Wednesday. “The city of Bend needs a strong voice in Salem, just as our schools do.”
The Bend-based 54th District has nearly 6,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans and voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, but it’s been represented by Republicans in the state house since 2011. Nonaffiliated voters make up the second-largest number of voters in the district.
While both candidates ran uncontested in their primaries, Boddie received about 2,500 more votes in his closed primary than Helt did. He said he wasn’t bothered by his council colleagues endorsing Helt.
“Some people will endorse me,” he said. “Some people will endorse my opponent.”
Boddie boasts endorsements from Bend Parks & Recreation District Board members Nathan Hovekamp and Lauren Sprang, Central Oregon Community College Board member Erica Skatvold, former Bend mayor Jim Clinton, City Councilor Barb Campbell and Angela Chisum, who ran unsuccessfully against Helt for a school board position last year. He has support from The Oregon Education Association and the Bend Education Association, along with local liberal and environmental groups.
He used his few free minutes at the end of Wednesday’s City Council meeting to remind the rest of the council that they’re nonpartisan, but he said later that’s something to remember every election season.
“Ideally, partisanship really shouldn’t play too much of a role at any level of government,” he said. “At the local level, it’s hard to take a political party and stick it on a pothole and say this party will fix the pothole better.”
Councilor Bruce Abernethy, who works as a grant writer for Bend-La Pine Schools, said he told Helt and Boddie that he was staying out of the race because he works with them. It’s more awkward when councilors support challenges to other councilors’ re-election bids, he said.
“It definitely makes things awkward, but by the same token, I would be the first person to say that I would vote for the person over the party,” Abernethy said.
Livingston, who sits next to Boddie at council meetings, said he thought Helt would do a better job because of her experience on the school board and exposure to PERS. He said he’s committed to keeping partisan business off the City Council dais, and he shook Boddie’s hand Wednesday night to congratulate him on his nomination.
“I don’t feel that it’s awkward,” Livingston said. “We can have our differences and still be cordial. I think that’s how elected officials should be.”
Moseley said he appreciated Helt’s work on behalf of small businesses and saw her as a moderate who considers a lot of viewpoints. He said he sees a lot of polarization from his position on the City Council, and while he might not agree with Helt’s support of abortion rights, he respects that she doesn’t adhere to the party line on all issues.
On the other hand, Moseley said he’s heard Boddie give presentations bringing partisan politics to the City Council. In recent months, Boddie has asked the council to oppose a Trump administration plan to include a question about citizenship on the next census and support an unsuccessful legislative plan to cap carbon emissions.
“Nathan’s a good enough guy, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with him,” Moseley said. “In my personal opinion, he can be too dogmatic.”
Roats said he likes the work Helt did on the school board and doesn’t think it’s a good idea to have one party control the executive branch and both houses.
Sending Helt to Salem would result in more bipartisan bills, he said.
Roats, who in 2016 endorsed Moseley over incumbent Councilor Doug Knight, said endorsing Helt won’t affect the council’s work.
“We’re all grownups, and we all understand that we’re going to continue working professionally,” Roats said.
— Reporter: 541-633-2160; email@example.com