54th House District candidates

Name: Nathan K. Boddie, MD, MS

Party: Democrat

Age: 46

Residence: Bend

Profession: Physician, Bend City Councilor

Education: Auburn University, B.S., Zoology

Columbus State University, M.S., Environmental Science

St. George’s University, M.D.

Name: Cheri Helt

Party: Republican

Age: 48

Residence: Bend

Profession: Restaurateur

Education: Michigan State University, B.S., Psychology

Note: Working Families Party candidate Amanda La Bell appears on the ballot, but has suspended her campaign.

The race for House District 54 could result in a missed opportunity for Democrats.

When Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, decided to run for governor, Democratic leaders thought they had a shot at flipping a seat held by Republicans despite a Democratic voter registration edge. House Democrats are just one seat short of a supermajority needed to pass tax measures without courting Republican votes.

Nathan Boddie, a well-known physician and Bend city councilor, won an uncontested Democratic primary. He was set to face restaurateur and Bend-La Pine School Board member Cheri Helt, the lone Republican candidate.

Then everything blew up.

Democratic leaders and their allies dropped their support of Boddie when allegations of sexual harassment surfaced after the May 15 primary. Democrats then rallied around Amanda La Bell, the Working Families Party candidate, only to have her forced out of the race because of a false statement claiming a college degree in her Voters’ Pamphlet statement.

In the meantime, Helt has moved ahead with a full-blown campaign, spending $129,000 alone on broadcast advertising time. Boddie stayed in the race, though he has rarely made public appearances or talked to the media.

As for the issues facing the district, they have mostly been eclipsed by the candidate drama.

The Bulletin asked Helt and Boddie their positions on key issues — La Bell suspended her campaign. The 54th House District candidates were asked about affordable housing and education, then given a chance to include one or two other issues that are important to them. Here are their answers:

Q: The spiraling prices of homes, along with high rents, are increasingly a major issue for people living in the 54th House District. What do you think the Legislature should do to make housing more affordable, while at the same time not degrading the environment that attracts so many people to the district?

A: Boddie: Lack of adequate housing is perhaps the single largest issue facing Bend and Central Oregon. It affects our economy, health and education. We don’t want sprawl, but we don’t want to grow to look like the places so many of us moved here to escape, either. I led a responsible expansion of Bend’s growth boundary, so we can build more market-based housing, and I’ll continue to support having enough land for our population. We need more state help for affordable housing, so we can solve growing homelessness and funding for efforts like the Housing First process I championed here in Bend.

Helt: In Central Oregon, we’ve seen the cost of housing climb at unprecedented levels. Bend is currently the fourth fastest-growing city in the U.S. This incredible growth presents opportunity as well as real challenges. Our unprecedented growth is creating pressure on housing supply and prices, which impacts lower- and middle-income residents particularly hard. I believe we need state and local policies to do the following three things:

1.) Pursue carefully crafted reforms to state land use laws and local zoning to allow for additional buildable land for affordable housing choices in and around Bend. Oregon land use laws helped create the urban Bend that we all love and enjoy today, but it’s time to revisit those laws to manage our growth for our next 40 years.

2.) Increase the supply to bring down the cost of affordable housing for renters and owners.

3.) Protect renters from unreasonable increases and ensure rental assistance programs are available for people transitioning between jobs or on fixed incomes. Create a balance between landlords and renters in the marketplace.

Q: Oregon is near the bottom in terms of high school graduation rates in the nation. What can you, as a freshman lawmaker, do to move the state in the direction of improved results in education, in general, and high school graduation rates in particular.

A: Boddie: Young Oregonians are as resilient and bright as anywhere else in the nation, but officials aren’t supporting them with the resources they need. We need to repair crumbling school houses and put more teachers in our classrooms. And teachers need stable compensation, so they can continue their good work. As a councilor, I worked to provide land, infrastructure and funding to get new schools on the ground here in Bend, so our young people have safe places to learn. But that’s only half the story. We have too many children without stable housing or not enough food. We must fix that problem too, so Oregon’s children have an opportunity to succeed.

Helt: Ensuring every child in Oregon has an outstanding education is my top priority. Serving on the Bend-La Pine School Board for eight years, I’ve learned what works and where we need improvements. Locally, we’ve raised graduation rates by 10 percent, but that’s not enough. We need to address the funding crisis created by the broken state pension system. Each year, despite more dollars being spent, less dollars are going to classroom learning. Teachers continue to be cut, class sizes grow, and vital programs are cut. I’ll work to craft bipartisan reforms that fix the pension system, redirecting dollars back to classrooms. I will also champion 100 percent funding for career and technical education programs — they are proven to keep kids in school, improving graduation rates. I will lead to make schools safer. Last year in Bend, we fast-tracked new safety entrances in 22 schools.

Q: What other one or two issues affecting House District 54 do you think are especially important and would be areas where you would expect to be involved in the 2019 Legislature?

A: Boddie: Public utility infrastructure spending, and specifically converting many of our local homes from septic systems, has been ignored for several decades. As a councilor, I led a responsible approach to improving our utility capacity, and now we need more funding from the state to help convert residents to sewer, so the costs don’t fall unfairly on homeowners or on current utility customers. We also need state regulators to allow homeowners flexibility to fix their systems in the meantime so that Bend residents aren’t forced out of their homes through no fault of their own.

Helt: 1.) The progress of OSU-Cascades has been important to make higher education accessible for students of all ages in Central Oregon. I will work with the campus leadership and community leaders to ensure OSU-Cascades continues to receive its fair share of state funding and the autonomy to make sure that the next dreamer with an idea has the opportunity to pursue and achieve her dreams in Bend.

2.) As a small-business owner, ensuring the vitality of our small business economy in Bend is a personal passion of mine. My husband and I employ roughly 90 people in our two restaurants. Small businesses are the foundation of our local economy. We need to create a well-educated workforce, tax and regulation policies that are reasonable and restrained, and health care that is affordable.

— Reporter: 541-640-2750, gwarner@bendbulletin.com