Deschutes Rural Fire District #2

Name: Ray Miao

Age: 75

Residence: Bend

Profession: Retired biochemist

Name: Ben Schimoller

Age: 26

Residence: Bend

Profession: Legislative assistant for state Sen. Tim Knopp

Sisters-Camp Sherman Fire District

Name: Stratton Poindexter

Age: unavailable

Residence: Sisters

Profession: Retired captain with Redmond Fire

Name: Ken Jones

Age: 72

Residence: Sisters

Profession: Retired attorney for Oregon special districts, including Sisters-Camp Sherman Fire

Name: Kristie Miller

Age: unavailable

Residence: Sisters

Profession: Retired ranger for the U.S. Forest Service’s Sisters Ranger District

After losing a legislative primary last year by the narrowest of margins, Bend’s Ben Schimmoller is trying again for his first elected office — this time, a seat on a rural Central Oregon fire district board.

And it’s another tall order. The 26-year-old legislative aide is challenging a seasoned incumbent 50 years his senior for a spot on the board of Deschutes County Rural Fire Protection District No. 2.

Schimmoller and opponent Raymond Miao agree fiscal responsibility is key to protecting the region from wildfire.

Schimmoller touts the endorsements of Republican politicians, including his boss, Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, and the man who edged him for the 2018 party nomination by only two votes — Jack Zika, now a Republican state representative.

Miao is 75, a retired biochemist and cancer researcher and no stranger to public service. He’s served on the district’s board and the board of the Deschutes County Library since the 1990s. He’s up for reelection for both seats in the May election.

Since January, Schimmoller has worked in Knopp’s office, handling spokesperson, social media and research duties. He said his job in Salem has given him statewide connections that could benefit the fire board.

“Relationships are the cornerstone to getting things accomplished, particularly if you’re in the minority,” he said.

He said his relative youth is another advantage.

“I’ve watched the fires get worse,” he said. “They seriously affect our health — my wife’s health has been affected — and there are serious economic costs, as well.”

Deschutes Fire Protection District No. 2 provides fire and emergency medical service to Deschutes County residents outside Bend city limits through a contract with the Bend Fire Department. For years, the two entities have operated under a unique arrangement. The district owns the five fire stations that are leased by Bend Fire Department.

The fire board is nonpartisan, though Miao is a registered Democrat and Schimmoller, a Republican.

Miao said sound financial planning has enabled the district to build two new stations, in Bend and Tumalo, without taking on debt or asking voters for new taxes. Anticipating growth, the board established reserve funds when it was apparent the stations would be necessary to protect life and property in the district, he said.

“Responsible conservative financial planning and management is a hallmark of the district board,” he said.

As board president for years, Miao said he helped build trust with Bend Fire. During his presidency, the rate of cardiac arrest survivability rose nearly 30%, compared to a national average of 11% during the same period, he said.

Last May, Schimmoller and primary opponent Zika triggered an automatic recount, by coming within one-fifth of 1% of the total votes cast.

Months later, after a hand recount, the county clerk announced the original margin separating the candidates was confirmed.

It was difficult to come so close and lose, Schimmoller said.

“At the end of the day, you accept the will of the voters,” Schimmoller said. “But I didn’t want to walk away.”

Squeakers like Schimmoller-Zika are not too uncommon, said Deschutes County Clerk Nancy Blankenship, and they’re more likely to happen in May elections than those in November, due to lower turnout in May.

“Unfortunately, to get to 35% (turnout), is pretty good,” she said. “And that’s really sad.”

Elsewhere, the Sisters-Camp Sherman Fire District has three seats up for election, with incumbents running unopposed for two of them.

There’s a three-way race to serve the remaining two years in the four-year term of Heather Johnson, who stepped down this year. Two of those three candidates have extensive fire service experience, and the other has a long background working with district boards, notably the Sisters-Camp Sherman board.

The candidates are retired Redmond Fire Capt. and recent Sisters transplant Stratton Poindexter, retired head of the U.S. Forest Service’s Sisters Ranger District Kristie Miller, and district budget committee member and former lawyer for the district, Ken Jones.

The district encompasses a fire protection area of 55 square miles and an ambulance area of nearly 600 square miles, covering an area from Hoodoo to Salem. In 2018, it responded to 1,163 calls, 77 percent of which were medical in nature. Personnel focus on traffic crashes on mountain passes and wildfire risk, said Chief Roger Johnson, who’s headed the district’s administrative side for seven years.

Johnson said this election’s crop of candidates is especially strong. Whoever is elected will help the board improve readiness for wildfires and significant weather events and updating the district’s three-year strategic plan.

— Reporter: 541-383-0325, gandrews@bendbulletin.com

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