House District 17 will have a new representative during the next session of the Oregon Legislature.
Republican Jami Cate of Lebanon, Democrat Paige Hook of Stayton and Pacific Green candidate Timothy Dehne of Scio are vying for the seat which has been held by Sherrie Sprenger since 2008. Sprenger chose to not seek another term in the House and is running for a seat on the Linn County Board of Commissioners.
Hook, 34, acknowledges that this has historically been a Republican district, but believes the state would benefit from having more rural Democrats in the Legislature. Because Democrats control the Oregon Legislature, the best way to have a voice is to be part of that caucus, Hook said.
“We’ve been left out of conversations for many years because we can’t get into where those conversations are taking place and those decisions are being made,” Hook said. “There are a lot of rural Dems running right now. If we can get enough rural Dems elected, we’ll be able to form a rural caucus, which will really make the urban Democrats have to start listening to us.”
Cate, 33, said she isn’t taking the race for granted.
“It’s the first time I’ve ran. I don’t have the established name recognition and incumbency,” Cate said.
Cate said she is running for office because it is a way to serve the community and represent the agricultural industry, of which she is a part.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to advocate for all of the different things that I had been giving my time to through volunteering, as well as my industry, from one position,” Cate said.
Dehne, 68, has experience running for public office. A long-time resident of Corvallis, he ran for the Benton County Board of Commissioners on four occasions.
“It’s an open seat, so it’s a great opportunity for a third party to jump in there, especially a lot of the feedback that I get from people is that they’re kind of sick of this whole ‘us versus them’ thing. I feel like honestly, of the three people running, I can do the most good for District 17,” Dehne said.
The candidates noted that circumstances and their priorities have changed since the primary campaign. COVID-19 and the wildfires of the late summer have created new needs for the district.
When asked to list her top priorities, Cate said, “Definitely would not be the same issues I would have started with. I think wildfire prevention, proper forestry management would have to be paramount right now. As well as, I think, getting Oregon, especially our schools, reopened safely.”
Cate also hopes to work toward more economic development in rural communities.
“Trying to rebuild after so many losses this year with COVID and with the wildfires being such setbacks, I think economic development is crucial right now,” Cate said.
A key part of that work, she believes, is taking a different approach to the state’s land-use laws.
“In Lebanon we don’t have a lot of buildable land left for expanding our industries, our employers, our businesses. I think that limits our economic development,” Cate said.
Hook said two issues are at the forefront: rebuilding in the Santiam Canyon after the fires and promoting economic recovery in response to COVID-19.
She also thinks the state has failed to provide enough affordable housing.
“In rural Oregon, rent is 16% higher than in other rural areas across the nation and home prices are 30% higher. We are not doing a good job of providing affordable housing here,” Hook said.
Hook is also concerned about funding for public education.
“We still haven’t heard about financial decisions for the Student Success Act which was passed in 2019. We need to address this lack of funding that as the Legislature you are required to provide for the education system,” Hook said. “We have too-large class sizes and caseloads are too high for special education teachers. We need more educators and aids in general.”
Dehne previously served on the board of the Benton Soil and Water Conservation District and that work continues to shape his focus.
“Always and forever, my number one priority is making everyone deal with the issue of water. Water is the issue, water is really the leading issue in the entire world,” Dehne said. “We continue to take water for granted.”
His second priority is helping Oregonians regain their footing after the devastation of the forest fires.
“There’s a lot of loss out there,” Dehne said.
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