Democrats welcome candidates to run in November election
When former House District 52 Rep. Mark Johnson resigned from his seat in November, there was a concern within his Republican party that his exit could open the door for a Democratic super majority to take hold in the Oregon House.
That question has arisen again now with the announcement of a Democratic candidate for not only Johnson's old seat, which is now held by appointee Rep. Jeff Helfrich (R-Hood River), but for Sen. Chuck Thomsen's Senate District 26 position.
"This is a representative democracy, we want to be sure that representations of the diverse voices of our districts and state are heard," Rep. Helfrich said on the matter. "What's important is that we work together, regardless of party, to achieve the greatest good for the most people. If having a super majority of either party gets in the way of that, then we have a problem. … We have to be listening to and working with the community to be sure the needs of our communities are being addressed both locally and in Salem."
Aurora del Val (D-Cascade Locks), a longtime educator and water rights activist has thrown her hat, though not officially, into the ring to contest Helfrich.
"She has not yet registered as a candidate for the HD52 seat, but I welcome community members to be active in the election process and look forward to learning who my opponents for the primary and general Election will be," Helfrich said in response to del Val's intention to oppose him.
Chrissy Reitz (D-Hood River), a member of the Hood River County School Board and former neonatal intensive care nurse, has formally filed to contest Thomsen on Jan. 19.
Both candidates attended the Jan. 23 meeting of the Oregon Trail Democrats (OTD) in Sandy.
"We really need to support these people," OTD member Jan Lee said at the meeting. "Both of these districts are seen as high-value swing districts."
"We have two good candidates running for our house district seat and our state senate seat," local party chairwoman Susan Gates said. "We want to get rid of those Republicans and we want to get the Democrats in there, and they're two wonderful women on top of that."
Both candidates are admittedly "green," with little-to-no experience in the political sphere, but both said they felt compelled to run because of recent anti-woman rhetoric and because their respective communities encouraged them to represent them in the Legislature.
Most of del Val's experience campaigning comes from her work with the Local Water Alliance, the group formed to oppose Nestle's proposed water-bottling plant in Cascade Locks.
She is hoping the nonpartisan aspect of that campaign, consisting of both Democrats and Republicans alike in arguing against the move of Nestle into the small Oregon town, will help her appeal to constituents of both parties during the election.
"I think that 69 percent says something," she told The Post. "And, my background in education and doing the bipartisan work to protect our local water sources, I think says a lot about me."
Helfrich was pro-Nestle in that his concern was job creation. He said the plant could have provided an "economic boost" for the community.
"This was something that the constituents of Cascade Locks were interested in and was shared through Letters to the Editor, other news platforms," Helfrich explained in an email. "The key driver was that the community wanted an economic booster and the discussions about the possibilities were there including that it would have provided 50 family wage jobs. The community of Cascade Locks deserves an economic boost and here we are some two years later, and there has been the Eagle Creek Fire, which has set the community, my constituents of House District 52, even further back. More economic opportunities, especially living wage jobs are needed in Cascade Locks."
Del Val worked as a teacher and volunteer, most recently with Mt. Hood Community College on its 2017 bond measure, for more than 20 years. As a career educator, de Val explained that she is invested in creating more opportunities for students, including those not interested in attending a four-year college or taking the traditional secondary education route.
"I think there need to be more pathways for people to be successful," she added. "I think we need to have more options for young people."
Now she is the active president of the Rockford Grange and said she has invested most of her efforts lately into "working hard to build connections and do community advocacy."
Running for office was not in the plan for her until recently and, she explained, only came about at the request of community members.
"It's a campaign for people who believe in me and wanted me to run," she noted. "I think of this not as a me campaign, but a we campaign."
On the topic of the possible super majority, del Val said that "as a Democrat that's great (and) I think we can really make some headway then.
"I think the issue of the super majority, when it gets down to it, it's my responsibility to truly represent my district," she admitted. "So I need to talk with voters."
As far as del Val's platform, she has declared she is not a "one issue" candidate. She plans to not merely stay true to her role in water rights advocacy, but push legislation concerning education, climate change, immigration and being an advocate for everybody from farmers and businesspeople to students and senior citizens.
Del Val counts herself as one of many people, women in particular, who have been compelled to run for office because of a growing distrust in and dissatisfaction with President Donald Trump.
"I think with the #metoo (movement), a lot of women are rising up from the local level to the federal," she explained. "In a lot of ways I think we have Trump to thank for waking up the nation. If you want to see change, you have to step up, and that's what I'm doing."
As a member of the Hood River County School Board and a former neonatal nurse, the key components of Reitz' platform are children's education and health care.
"As a parent and school board member, I know that education is the key to opportunity, and Oregon families deserve good-paying jobs and access to quality, affordable healthcare," Reitz said in a release announcing her candidacy. "As our state senator, I'll focus our priorities and ensure our local public schools have the resources they need."
Besides serving on the school board, Reitz is an active community volunteer, working to raise money for physical education classes with events like the Gorge Kids Triathlon, which she founded in 2011 to benefit Hood River Valley Elementary school.
"You can't have anything in our society without education," she told the small crowd at the Oregon Trail Democrats meeting on Jan. 23.
In an earlier version of this story on page 3 of The Post's Jan. 31 edition, the Rockford Grange was misidentified. The Rockford Grange is located in Hood River. There was also a misprint in a quote from Chrissy Reitz, who said, "You can't have anything in our society without education."
The Post regrets the errors.