In this year's May election, surprisingly, only 15 of the 70 races are contested, with a handful having no candidates at all. However, looking at the election glass as half-full, the candidates who have come out are impressive. We attribute the strong class of candidates to an increased interest in the civic process. Last week, Rep. Greg Walden's town hall at Mountain View High School hit a capacity of 3,000—an indication of a constituency that's definitely paying attention.
In previous midterm elections, many races were far less competitive and the candidate pool far less experienced. That's not happening this election cycle.
It's encouraging that several races have four candidates in the running, which makes for a lively endorsement interview process. (See the videos embedded in our endorsement articles at BendSource.com). It's been an interesting time to look at our upcoming political environment.
Bend Park & Recreation District Director Zone 5
The race in Zone 5 contains a cadre of candidates, each who could feasibly and responsibly execute the role of parks director. Having four strong candidates in a race is a rare occurrence, but one we hope is a trend for the future. (A fifth candidate, Maureen Schlerf, confirmed with us last week that she's dropped out of the race.) While each candidate impressed on some level, Jason Kropf demonstrated both an in-depth understanding of the issues and an equitable vision for an increasingly urbanized Bend—deciding factors in our decision.
Kropf impressed with detailed knowledge of budget and program costs, as well as their impact on lower-income residents. His understanding of the cost barriers to families and individuals in accessing some of the district's facilities is insightful. Voters will appreciate his willingness to do his homework and his ability to enunciate his vision clearly and concisely—both indicators of his fitness for the job.
Kropf, presently serving as deputy Deschutes County district attorney with a caseload that includes at-risk kids and kids living in poverty, makes his mission of achieving more equitable use of funds in the park district all the more pertinent.
The other candidates also bring strengths and backgrounds of note. Joanne Mathews comes to the table with a proven track record of serving on several boards and working collaboratively with a variety of stakeholders. This is a trait each park director would do well to adopt, especially when faced with ongoing challenges, such as moving forward with Mirror Pond.
Adam Bledsoe, a successful businessman who would not be afraid to question some of the present park policies and practices that he believes don't serve Bend residents, is also in the race. It's good to see Bledsoe's presence, but he will need to invest a bit more time gaining a deeper understanding of the issues facing the district.
Watch the full interview below.
We were impressed with Lauren Sprang's attention to matters of equity and the environment. While perhaps more knowledgeable than Mathews and Bledsoe, she currently brings less institutional knowledge to the race than Kropf. When we asked each candidate about their position on issuing park district System Development Credits to builders of affordable housing, we liked Sprang's insight, saying she's in favor of credits, but only with stricter oversight on ensuring the homes built actually end up serving the target community. We also appreciate Sprang's commitment to increasing the urban trail system—one option for reducing daily commute traffic. She also posited that sites where urban trails and roads intersect could act as places where park funds could help improve existing infrastructure—thus demonstrating a creativity all our elected officials—city, schools, parks and otherwise—need in this period of growth for our city.
Ultimately, while we support the expansion of trails, it is our desire to see a park director with the most equitable economic vision for the district. Bend is surging toward becoming metropolitan. With that in mind, the Park District will flourish with a director who is familiar with both the positives and the negatives of that growth. Vote Jason Kropf for Bend Park & Recreation District 5 director.
Administrative School District Zone 1 (Bend-La Pine School Board)
Cheri Helt, owner of Zydeco restaurant in downtown Bend, is the incumbent in this race, having served on the Bend-La Pine school board since 2010. We support her continued participation on the board. While we applaud opponent Angela Chisum's commitment to kids, to equity and to improving outcomes in the district, Helt has been a strong advocate for Bend-La Pine Schools at the state level—something we'll continue to expect from her in tough budgetary times.
Helt has a firm grasp on the competing priorities of funding for education versus funding the Public Employees Retirement System—a system currently facing a shortfall that stands to impact the budgets of the school district and other government bodies statewide. Helt has established relationships in Salem that can be beneficial in advocating for our unique, growing district, and in advocating for more teachers in the classroom, not fewer—as is the current state of affairs when the district is faced with covering an increased PERS burden.
Watch the full interview below
We want teachers to get the retirement they've earned—and we understand the connection between teacher satisfaction and retention, and in turn, student success—but when it comes to being the voice that our district needs in Salem, we believe Helt can follow through. We're also encouraged by Helt's commitment to finding workable solutions to replace Measure 97. While we question the board's decision to come out against Measure 97 in November, we believe Helt will advocate for a workable solution. She needs to, given the board's stance last election cycle.
While we were impressed with Chisum's professionalism and values, and we encourage her to continue to seek opportunities to support schools, Helt's experience is too beneficial to the board right now, and she should be able to continue that work.
Vote Cheri Helt for the Administrative School District Zone 1 board spot.
Read our endorsements for the candidates in the local, contested races, all the way up to election day, May 16.