By JACKSON HOGAN The Bulletin
There were topics that Republican state Rep. Cheri Helt and the Democratic challenger for her legislative seat — Deschutes County deputy district attorney and Bend Park & Recreation District board member Jason Kropf — agreed on during a virtual forum Tuesday. Those include abortion rights, gun safety and campaign finance reform.
Yet, the two House District 54 candidates — who have had a heated campaign this fall — found a multitude of ways to continue attacking each other for much of the hourlong forum, hosted by City Club of Central Oregon and the League of Women Voters.
During her opening statement, Helt immediately focused on the fact that Kropf had to return over $20,000 in campaign contributions from the Oregon Trial Lawyers Association. An argument about this topic lasted so long, that both candidates had little time to answer the moderator’s first question, about redistricting.
In a tweet Tuesday morning, Kropf admitted to returning contributions from the trial lawyers association. The association allegedly requested silence from former Deschutes County prosecutor Jasmyn Troncoso, who earlier this year issued an intent to sue the office of District Attorney John Hummel for having a sexist and racist workplace, Kropf wrote.
An investigation into the district attorney’s office, commissioned by Hummel himself, disproved a number of Troncoso’s claims, Hummel said in September.
Throughout the first 10 minutes of the forum, Helt repeatedly told Kropf that his return of the association’s contribution was a “clear admission of wrongdoing,” and that he needed to issue Troncoso an apology.
“I want to point out that he still has not apologized to Jasmyn,” Helt said near the end of the argument. “You can do better, Jason.”
Kropf said he respects Troncoso, and wouldn’t attempt to silence her, which is why he returned the contribution. He also chastised Helt for asking him to compromise his ethics by discussing a potential lawsuit involving his workplace.
“I understand you’d rather mislead voters about my record than talk about your record, but it’s time for open and honest discussion about the issues,” Kropf said.
Both candidates also repeatedly assailed each others’ actions in their elected positions.
Kropf attacked Helt for voting against the Student Success Act in 2019, which taxes businesses to create millions of dollars in additional school funding for disadvantaged students. She also voted against a failed cap-and-trade bill in 2019, which would have fought greenhouse gas emissions, Kropf noted.
Helt defended her vote against the cap-and-trade bill, calling it too expensive for Oregonians. She also voted for other environmentally focused bills, such as bills that banned fracking and offshore drilling, she said.
“We cannot raise the cost of heating to where people on fixed incomes cannot afford it,” Helt said. “We cannot raise gas prices … where people living paycheck to paycheck cannot get to their jobs.”Kropf said he felt the high cost of both the Student Success Act and cap-and-trade were worth it to guarantee better educational outcomes and protect Oregonians from climate change-induced wildfires.
“I’ve heard Rep. Helt say, ‘It costs too much,’” Kropf said. “What costs too much is when we have a school system that doesn’t work for every kid. What costs too much is what we just saw on the western slope of the Cascades, when wildfires devastated huge towns.”
Helt condemned Kropf’s Bend Park & Recreation board for its high developer fees, which she said prohibits the building of affordable housing.
“I’m wondering, when are we going to do something about that, Jason?” Helt said, regarding developing fees. “You’re in the position to change that.”
Knopf said the parks board has waived these fees on some recent affordable housing projects, and he’s voted against raising the fees.
Both candidates also brought forward many ideas to improve Bend. Kropf repeatedly stressed the need to increase funding for mental health care.
“We have to make sure people’s basic needs are being met,” he said. “We’re trying to prevent crisis, as opposed to dealing with crisis on the back end.”Helt — who served on the Bend-La Pine School Board before being elected to the Legislature in 2018 — introduced a bill recently that would build secure entryways for every Oregon school, something many local schools already have, she said.
Helt also touted her moderate stance, reminding listeners that she supports abortion rights and doesn’t like President Donald Trump, yet still values small government.
“Most people agree with my policies, because they’re right down the middle,” she said. “I don’t have my party’s affiliation on my yard sign; that’s offensive to me.”
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