Julia Shumway
The Bulletin

In May 2017, when he was a candidate for a seat on the Bend Park & Recreation District board, Ron “Rondo” Boozell ran some of his campaign from a jail cell.

Even as an inmate at the Deschutes County jail, serving time for a contempt of court charge, he found support.

“Boozell!” a corrections deputy said during a head count. “I voted for you today.”

That could happen again this November.

Not only is Boozell a Bend City Council candidate, but the 57-year-old political gadfly has been in jail since Aug. 24. Boozell was recognized by a Bend Police officer who knew there was an arrest warrant for Boozell’s persistent refusal to pay child support for his six grown children.

A 90-day sentence for that, plus 30 days for reportedly trying to bike away from the officer who recognized and arrested him, means Boozell isn’t expected to leave jail until Dec. 9 — a month and three days after the Nov. 6 election.

He could get out earlier if he joined a work crew, which he’s trying to do, but he’s disqualified from working because he’s on a hunger strike. It’s a renewal of a hunger strike he started in March 2017, the last time he was given jail time for not paying child support.

By Tuesday, 25 days into his sentence and the new hunger strike, Boozell had lost 14 pounds. While he hasn’t eaten since his arrest, he has agreed to drink an electrolyte solution, and his eyes were bright under a shock of white hair as he spoke into a slot in the glass separating jail inmates from their visitors.

“I am going to be elected to our City Council someday,” he said.

Boozell has run repeated unsuccessful campaigns for the Bend City Council since 2010, and he ran for a spot on the Bend Park & Recreation District board in spring 2017. This year, his opponents for the Bend City Council are sitting Councilor and retail shop owner Barb Campbell and stay-at-home mother Sarah McCormick.

While Campbell and McCormick are knocking on doors, talking to voters and running traditional campaigns, Boozell’s campaigning is limited to the several hundred inmates and jail staff he sees each day. He said he’s trying to get voter registration cards and voter pamphlets brought into the jail, and he plans to have his ballot forwarded to the jail.

“I am doing nothing to campaign outside,” he said. “I’m letting the work that I’ve already done speak for me.”

Jail inmates in Oregon can vote, although those in state prisons cannot. Jail inmates are awaiting trial or have been sentenced to jail time for minor crimes, while prison is reserved for people convicted of more serious offenses.

Voters who aren’t registered in Oregon have until Oct. 16 to register to vote, Deschutes County Clerk Nancy Blankenship said. People who are registered to vote in Oregon but need to update their address, political party or anything else on their registration can do so through Election Day, but they will have go in person to the clerk’s office to do so if they wait too long.

“People can register people wherever,” Blankenship said. “If somebody is being held at the Deschutes County jail, they can certainly update their mailing address.”

The Deschutes County jail releases about a dozen people each day, and that’s a front doorstep of the Bend community, Boozell said. He thinks his experiences in jail have made him a better council candidate, the same way his experience with being homeless — he’s been living in an RV for the past couple years — help him understand and represent Bend’s homeless population. He hammered the City Council throughout the winter about Bend’s lack of a dedicated cold-weather shelter, and one of his top priorities as a candidate is providing shelter and services for homeless residents who want them.

He’s pushing to get rid of Bend’s exclusion zones, which allow the city and park district to temporarily ban people from downtown and public parks if they’re caught committing certain crimes. During his 2016 council campaign, Boozell was barred from parks for 15 days for smoking marijuana in Drake Park.

Boozell is suspicious of the circumstances that led to him spending his 2017 run for the park board and his current council campaign in jail.

“This is the second campaign of mine in a row that they put me in jail,” Boozell said. “This is not about child support anymore.”

He said he received a notice in August that he had two weeks to turn himself in on a contempt-of-court warrant for not paying child support, and he planned to do so after getting his campaign started. City Council and mayoral candidates have to collect 150 verified signatures from fellow Bend voters to qualify for the ballot, and Boozell turned in his list of signatures Aug. 14, according to an email he sent The Bulletin at the time.

Ten days later, Boozell was riding his bike on Wall Street when Bend Police Officer Zachary Childers, who was a corrections deputy before joining the police department, recognized him. Childers told Boozell there was a warrant out for his arrest and asked him to get off his bike. Boozell responded, “Nope,” and tried to bike away, according to a police report.

Boozell said from jail he thought Childers was talking to someone else, and he didn’t expect to be arrested until after the election.

“I figured they were letting me run my campaign,” he said.

When judges send arrest warrants, officers almost always make those arrests, said Bend Police Lt. Clint Burleigh, a spokesman for the department. They don’t go actively searching for people with warrants, though — warrant arrests typically result when police stop someone for an unrelated incident and run their name through a shared records management system.

“We do not get involved in any politics at all,” Burleigh said. “If they recognize somebody and they know they have a warrant, I expect them to make that arrest.”

Once a week, the department’s crime analyst prints out a list of active warrants and shares them with officers, Police Chief Jim Porter said. Porter, who’s frequently in the same room as Boozell because of government meetings and volunteer opportunities, said he doesn’t check whether people in council meetings have warrants out.

“We don’t run everybody in the room,” he said. “That would be like a police state.”

—  Reporter: 541-633-2160; jshumway@bendbulletin.com