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Opponent Jeff Helfrich calls for unity after period of divisiveness, 'not more of the same' in Salem

COURTESY PHOTO - Rep. Anna Williams, D-Hood River. After multiple weeks of waiting for ballots to be counted, Rep. Anna Williams has been declared victorious in her bid for reelection to the House District 52 seat.

Though Williams appeared the clear winner on election night, Jeff Helfrich began gaining on the incumbent on Nov. 6, at one point sitting only 50 votes away from Williams.

As of late Nov. 18, Williams announced via social media that the race had been called in her favor.

"Friends, what a long, strange election it's been," Williams wrote. "The results are finally in, and I am happy to announce that we won! The final lead was 86 votes — just outside the margin for an automatic recount. It is with deep gratitude for my campaign team, my family, friends and supporters that I move forward with a renewed commitment to serving every person in the district, regardless of who they voted for in this very tight race. We have so much to do, and I look forward to hearing from you about your thoughts, ideas and hopes for our district and our state. Onward!"

As of noon Nov. 19, the Oregon Secretary of State's office was reporting Williams with 19,205 votes or 48.74% of the vote to Helfrich's 19,115 votes or 48.51% of the vote. This disparity puts the race just outside the realm of an automatic recount, which is triggered by candidates being within 0.2% of each other in votes.

"This race proved to us that every vote really does matter," Williams told The Post on Nov. 19. "I think the message of this election has been voters want an independent voice, and I look forward to hearing from people in this district about what they want to see, so I can best represent them regardless of who they voted for."

Similar to the 2018 race, Hood River County showed the most support for Williams. As of Nov. 19, Williams had 8,229 votes to Helfrich's 4,304 votes in Hood River County. In Clackamas and Multnomah counties, Helfrich received more votes than Williams. Helfrich held 10,603 votes to Williams' 7,534 votes in Clackamas County, and he had 4,208 votes to Williams' 3,442 votes.

Williams said that though she received notably fewer votes in Clackamas County, she has also heard from voters in the county who are happy to have her back for another term.

"I do think COVID made it very challenging for me to be as present in those communities this year," Williams said. "As soon as it's safe to be in those communities (in-person), I want to improve those relationships and hear how I can work with them. I'll be a lot more intentional about being present in those communities and make people feel heard."

Williams is an academic adviser for social work students at Simmons College and has taught in middle and high schools in the Hood River, North Wasco and Dufur school districts.

Most of Williams' prior political experience was advocating for communities along the Columbia River Gorge in connection with groups like Aging in the Gorge Alliance — a regional grassroots organization that campaigns for elder rights on topics of housing, food, transportation and caregiving — and with nonprofit groups, which focus on services for women, children and seniors, public health and education.

In her time in the House, Williams has sponsored multiple bills aimed at police reform and aid for children in unsafe conditions. She also made agriculture a priority.

More recently and locally, Williams has helped secure $500,000 from the state to explore green alternatives like the city of Sandy's proposed new wastewater treatment and discharge plan for the Sandy River; she has worked on legislation to require ODOT to put a heavier focus on safety on Highway 26; and she helped ensure that ski resorts on Mount Hood qualified for and received funding to keep doors open and employees paid during the pandemic.

She also is working with the Sandy City Council and Clackamas Workforce Partnership to build capacity for local child care to address the current need. Williams also is involved in task forces aimed at helping the district recover economically and from the impacts of this year's wildfire season.

COURTESY PHOTO - Jeff Helfrich, R-Hood River. "I'm excited to continue serving the district," Williams said, adding that she congratulates Jeff Helfrich on "a race well run" and thanks him for "his commitment to his community."

Helfrich notified his base last week that their canvassing effort hadn't raised him enough in votes to defeat Williams.

"Unfortunately, we just aren't going to get there," he said to his campaign staff and supporters. "I want to take this time to thank each and every one of you for your time and effort you put toward my campaign. Your contribution has meant the world to me and my family."

He also added that he hopes Williams sees this close race as reason to not just "do more of the same."

"Throughout the last few years, we've all seen firsthand how politics has pulled our communities apart. Now is the time to come together," Helfrich said. "This win by my opponent was not a mandate to do more of the same in Salem. Less than half of the people in our community voted for her. That's indicative that people want something different, and that we deserve better public policies that positively impact our community.

"My hope is we can find a new path forward for our state where decisions are made for the greater good of the people in our communities, not for the political parties that politicians represent or the special interests that support them.

"Thank you for your help, thank you for your prayers, and thank you for your support. Please pray for those in elected positions. Let's use this season to come together and remember what unites us as a state and a nation is far greater than what divides us."

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