This year, something unprecedented has happened to Carol Loesche, president of the League of Women Voters of Deschutes County: Four Bend-La Pine School Board candidates have completely ignored her calls and emails to participate in her organization’s traditional nonpartisan candidate forum.
Those four candidates are Jon Haffner, Gregg Henton, Wendy Imel and Maria Lopez-Dauenhauer. That means there’s a very strong chance the League Of Women Voters and City Club of Central Oregon’s virtual forum Thursday will only feature four of the eight candidates running for a seat on the Bend-La Pine School Board. And all four of the candidates likely to skip are competing in separate races.
“It’s just wrong,” said Loesche. “Their job is to let the voters know what their positions on things are. To not even participate, how are we supposed to know what they stand for?”
Joey Drucker — the executive director of City Club of Central Oregon, the other Bend nonpartisan organization co-hosting the virtual forums — is also frustrated with being stonewalled.
“Hearing nothing is unusual,” she said. “Especially if they’re running for a public office, this indicates a lack of willingness to talk to the public in the future.”
Although the League of Women Voters and City Club will broadcast their Bend-La Pine School Board candidate forum online at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, the event will be pre-recorded on Tuesday.
The other four Bend-La Pine board candidates — incumbent Carrie McPherson Douglass and newcomers Marcus LeGrand, Janet Sarai Llerandi and Shirley Olson — have all confirmed their participation in the forum, Loesche and Drucker said. Cab Burge, a candidate who will appear on the May 18 ballot, decided after he filed for election not to run.
Twelve of the 13 Redmond School Board candidates also agreed to participate in their separate candidate forums, Loesche and Drucker said.
The Bend-La Pine School Board races, like all Oregon school board races, are nonpartisan. However, Loesche said she was told by another League of Women Voters member that the four candidates who appear to be skipping the forum are Republican-affiliated.
Loesche has led candidate forums for the League of Women Voters since the 1970s — mostly in northwest Indiana, where she previously lived. She has never seen an entire block of candidates skip a forum while ignoring the organization, she said.
“This idea that one party won’t participate, I don’t get it because I never ran into that in all my years of doing forums,” she said.
Loesche said she believes these candidates are skipping the nonpartisan forum to participate in a private, Deschutes Republicans-hosted school board forum on April 28.
Ginger Mugar — the planner for the Deschutes Republican Party who is organizing her party’s candidate forum — said she doesn’t know why the four school board candidates are ignoring City Club and League of Women Voters.
“I have nothing to do with that,” she told The Bulletin.
Mugar added that the Republicans have not endorsed any school board candidates yet, and she hasn’t officially confirmed who will be participating in her party’s private forum next week.
“I’m not sure how many are coming,” she said. “There’s not much I can say.”
The Bulletin editorial board has also had difficulties setting up interviews with these four candidates, according to Richard Coe, editorial page editor.Henton and Lopez-Dauenhauer have responded via phone or email, but have not committed to an actual interview, he said.
Haffner, Henton and Lopez-Dauenhauer did not respond to multiple requests for comment from The Bulletin’s city desk. Imel briefly spoke with The Bulletin on Friday, but a full interview could not be arranged by Monday afternoon.