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Candidates for eastern Lane County legislative seat debate the issues

Three of the people running for Oregon HD12 spoke at a Springfield City Club forum.
Springfield City Club
Three of the people running for Oregon HD12 spoke at a Springfield City Club forum.

Candidates seeking to represent Oregon House District 12, which includes eastern Lane County and Cottage Grove spoke during a forum Thursday at the Springfield City Club.

The district has no incumbent after the lawmaker who represents the area, Republican Cedric Hayden, decided to run for Oregon Senate.

There are four Republicans on the primary ballot, but just two of them spoke at the forum.

Nicole De Graff, who lives near Mohawk, said she wants to speak up for rural voters in Salem.

“It’s not a one-size fits all,” she said. “The economic development of each little city in our district is different than, let’s say, Eugene or any other urban areas.”

This is De Graff’s second run for a legislative seat, having unsuccessfully run in House District 11 in 2020. The boundaries of state legislative districts changed following the once-a-decade redistricting process that took place last year. The new version of the district now wraps around the north side of Eugene to include Coburg and Junction City.

Another candidate who spoke at the forum, Charlie Conrad of Dexter, said he’s running because he thinks many voters in the district no longer trust their government.

“Trust works both ways,” he said. “And it's time for elected officials to extend that hand out to the people. Only then will we begin to trust the government.”

The other two Republican candidates are Jeff Gowing of Cottage Grove and Bill Ledford of Coburg.

None of the four candidates for the Republican primary have raised a significant amount of money in their campaign. Conrad leads the pack with about $13,000, but more than half of that came from himself or family members.

The winner of the GOP primary will face Michelle Emmons, who’s unopposed for the Democratic nomination. Emmons said her top priorities if elected would include “education, making sure we have affordable housing, developing the infrastructure that we need…(and) providing stronger access to health care.”

While the state House district that included eastern Lane County and Cottage Grove was heavily Republican under the previous borders, the new district is nearly evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, according to the latest voter registration totals released by the Oregon Secretary of State’s office.

As in most legislative districts, the largest single bloc of voters in the 12th District are people who are unaffiliated with any political party.

Chris Lehman has been reporting on Oregon issues since 2006. He joined the KLCC news department in December 2018 and became News Director in March 2023. Chris was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and graduated from Temple University with a degree in journalism. His public broadcasting career includes stops in Louisiana and Illinois. Chris has filed for national programs including “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered.”