Two Democrats and one incumbent Republican are seeking to represent the 59th state House district in the May primary.
The district, which covers Deschutes, Jefferson, Wasco and Wheeler counties, is currently represented by Republican Daniel Bonham.
Arlene Burns, who is the mayor of a small town in the Columbia River Gorge named Mosier, and Tyler Gabriel, who is listed as self-employed in candidate filings, are the two Democrats vying for the party’s nomination this May.
Gabriel did not respond to a request for an interview.
Burns, 59, is a freelance filmmaker and has been the mayor of Mosier since 2014.
Before her time in politics, Burns worked as an outdoor industry consultant, expedition leader, photojournalist and in various capacities in the film industry — including as a river guide stunt double for Meryl Streep in the movie “River Wild.”
She said she decided to run for the 59th District so that constituents could have a choice.
For the past two years, Burns said she has been increasingly frustrated by Republican representatives who have walked out over cap-and-trade bills in the state House and Senate.
“It feels like our democracy has been hijacked,” Burns said.
Now coming up on six years as mayor, Burns said she feels qualified to serve in the state House of Representatives because she understands how to represent the voices of rural residents.
An issue like addressing climate change, for example, is relevant for both urban and rural residents, Burns said — but the solutions for rural areas may be different than what is considered in Portland.
In Eastern Oregon, that could mean focusing on a more resilient power grid by encouraging more locally based, sustainable energy like solar power to help farmers cut down on electric bills, she said.
She believes she has shown that she can come up with long-term solutions to problems and to get things done. In 2016, Burns stepped into the spotlight after an oil train derailed in her small town of more than 400 residents.
“Instead of getting into endless lawsuits, we had a positive way of taking a crisis and finding a silver lining in the crisis and moving forward beyond it in a sustainable way,” Burns said. If elected, she said her goal is to come to the table to creatively work on long-term solutions to several issues facing Oregonians, including climate change, education and health care.
She has also decided to not raise money for her campaign, in light of the financial impacts families and businesses have faced from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I really want to believe that if I put the information in a place where people can find it, I can take this alternative tact of not needing money to win,” she said.
Bonham, the owner of Maupin’s Stoves & Spas in The Dalles, is running unopposed as a Republican to keep the seat he was appointed to in November of 2017. Bonham, 42, was appointed after his predecessor, John Huffman, resigned his House seat when President Donald Trump appointed him to a job within the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Two years later, Bonham said he felt compelled to run again to support rural Oregon and be a voice for small-business owners.
“I think I’ve always had an interest in public policy and a desire to make our community better,” he said. “This job offers a fantastic opportunity to enrich the lives of my neighbors.” Bonham said he feels he is qualified to continue representing the 59th District because of his willingness to listen to the communities that span the district’s 7,000 acres.
“The only way you know what your community needs or wants or expects is if you are engaged with your community,” he said.
A moment of pride for Bonham was the passage last year of a bill he worked on, Senate Bill 155. It strengthened the authority of the state’s teacher licensing agency to investigate educators who engage in sexual misconduct .
“That was important to me,” Bonham said.
If elected, Bonham said as the deputy leader of the House Republican Caucus, his priority would be to work on campaigns to get more Republicans elected to the state House.
He said in many ways the party has lost touch with urban and suburban voters, and it’s time to engage them again with the party’s message.
“I don’t know if there’s any single policy initiative that would stand out above balance and perspective,” he said.
The following House and Senate candidates are running unopposed in the primary races in their districts:
• Tim Knopp, the Republican incumbent, and Eileen Kiely, a Democrat, are running for Senate District 27, which covers Bend and Deschutes County.
• Hugh Palcic, a Democrat, and Dennis Linthicum, the Republican incumbent, are running for Senate District 28, which covers Crook County and southern Deschutes County.
• Carina Miller, a Democrat, and Lynn Findley, the Republican incumbent, are running for Senate District 30, which covers Jefferson County and most of Eastern Oregon.
• Vikki Breese-Iverson, a Republican incumbent, and Barbara Fontaine, a Democrat, are running for House District 55, which covers south of Crook County.
• Jason Kropf, a Democrat, and Cheri Helt, Bend’s Republican incumbent, are running for House District 54, which covers Bend.
• Emerson Levy, a Democrat, and Republican incumbent Jack Zika are running for House District 53, which covers Deschutes County without Bend.