A Closer Look at the 4 Candidates Running for Senate District 29 Seat

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Oregon’s state Senate District 29 is the second largest in the state. (Courtesy of Oregon Legislature)

By Alex Baumhardt/Oregon Capital Chronicle

For the first time in more than a decade, the expansive eastern Oregon state Senate district held by Republican Sen. Bill Hansell is open in this election.

Hansell announced in early March that he’ll retire this year, drawing four Republican candidates seeking to represent state Senate District 29, which stretches across northern Oregon from Wasco to Wallowa counties and includes Boardman, Pendleton, Hermiston and La Grande.

The candidates have a mix of experience: Jim Doherty is a rancher and former Morrow County commissioner; Dave Drotzmann is an optometrist and the mayor of Hermiston; Andy Huwe is a 20-year old Eastern Oregon University student; and Todd Nash, is a rancher and Wallowa County commissioner.

No Democrats are running which means whoever wins the Republican primary on May 21 will win the seat.

Here’s a look at the candidates.

Jim Doherty

Doherty is a longtime farmer and rancher and spent six years on the Morrow County Commission before he was recalled in late 2022 along with another commissioner, Melissa Lindsay. According to the recall petitioners, the two commissioners were not transparent in terminating a county administrator. Both Doherty and Lindsay said the campaign was backed by powerful interests from food processing and agricultural industries responsible for groundwater contamination.

Jim Doherty

In early 2022, Doherty launched a door-to-door water testing campaign with Ana Piñeiro of the Morrow County Health Department. When results from their testing showed many residents in Boardman had high levels of nitrate in water coming from their wells, Doherty backed a county-wide emergency declaration to usher in state support for water testing and to provide clean drinking water to residents. Doherty said the recall was linked to his campaign against the contamination.

As state senator, Doherty said he would prioritize bringing rural voices, especially rural Latino voices into discussions and decisions around state funding and policy and would focus on solving the drinking water contamination issues in eastern Oregon. He said he would reinstate the Office of Rural Policy that was established by former Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski in 2004 and which was dismantled in 2008 when the state Legislature left it unfunded. The goal was to help bring more rural Oregonians into formulating state policies and economic development projects.

“Folks out here are feeling disenfranchised, and are trying to be heard – whether it’s infrastructure, housing, veterans issues, whatever the case may be – and it feels like that’s fallen short, or they feel like they’re concerns have fallen on deaf ears,” Doherty said.

Additionally, he’d focus on growing affordable housing in the region, particularly for agricultural workers and veterans, as well as introducing legislation that would prevent large foreign investment in Oregon agricultural land.

Dave Drotzmann

Drotzmann is running for District 29 while holding down three jobs. He is mayor of Hermiston, president of the League of Oregon Cities and an optometrist running his clinic, Lifetime Vision Source, in Hermiston. He attributed his civic slate of professional and volunteer roles to a sense of responsibility he feels to the people who raised him.

“I grew up with a single mom who raised us while working two jobs, and I was surrounded by community,” he said. “Our church family, our neighbors, they kept us off the street and kept a roof over our heads.”

Drotzmann said his first priority, if elected, would be to grow affordable housing in the region and the state. Drotzmann said the city of Hermiston has increased its housing supply by about 1,000 since he was first elected mayor in 2012.

“I’m hoping to take some of the lessons that we’ve been able to build on and learn in my community – across the district, and share that across the state. So housing has got to be first and foremost,” he said.

Additionally, he’d like to “do a deeper dive into our budget at the statewide level” to reduce taxes and fees that he said have become untenable to Oregonians.

“I think government is too expensive, and we’re not providing enough value,” he added.

He’s been endorsed by several trade and electrical unions, including the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades. He’s also endorsed by the Oregon Gun Owners Political Action Committee and the Clean Energy for Oregon Political Action Committee.

Drotzmann said under his tenure as mayor Hermiston, residents’ wages have grown and property values have risen. He said he oversaw the addition of staff in libraries and among police, and that these would be priorities for the region at large. Drotzmann, who also spent a decade on the Hermiston School Board, said another campaign priority would be to increase the supply and affordability of child care and preschool statewide.

Andy Huwe

Huwe is the youngest candidate running in a statewide race, turning 21 by the May 21 primary, which will make him eligible to run under the Oregon constitution. A junior at Eastern Oregon University, Huwe is studying cyber security and public policy, and anticipates graduating in 2025.

Andy Huwe

He’s held a number of volunteer civic and political roles, including as secretary of the Young Republicans of Oregon, precinct committee member for the Wallowa County Republicans and as a liaison for House Rep. Bobby Levy, R-Echo.

Huwe said his youth is an advantage in an area of the state that he says is losing young people.

“This is a brain drain district,” he said. “Kids come to the universities here but they all leave, they don’t stay. We have to have somebody who’s able to connect with this younger generation and bring them to the table.”

He said he’d prioritize developing a technology economy in east Oregon and direct state funding to attract more data centers, technology companies and bring semiconductor manufacturing east of the Cascades.

“I am a unique person in that I have experience in tech, which is going to be one of the top industries in my district,” he said.

He’s also interested in improving data transparency and use at state agencies by getting digital archives and records in a centralized area where all Oregonians can access them.

Todd Nash

Todd Nash is a rancher and veteran leader of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association as well as the Wallowa County Commission.

He said his journey into politics began with state conservation laws in the 1990s focused on protecting forest habitat, wolves and salmon. He said voices of rural people working in those industries were left out of state policy conversations.

“It all put so much pressure on grazers and loggers. I was working at a sawmill in 1994 when it shut down. These things have had large consequences for me and my community over time,” Nash said.

Todd Nash

He’s been endorsed by nonprofit industry groups Oregon Farm Bureau and Oregon Business & Industry; the anti-abortion group Oregon Right to Life; and the conservative rural activist group Timber Unity.

He chose to run following the encouragement of several area politicians and former state Rep. Greg Barreto, R-Cove. Nash said he worked on several bills with Barreto and with Hansell over the years related to agriculture and natural resource policy.

“Almost all the policies that I’ve worked on have statewide implications. I haven’t sought just to try to do something for Wallowa County or a city. I’ve worked on those statewide issues for a long time,” he said.

Nash said he’s interested in addressing and remedying the drinking water contamination in Morrow and Umatilla counties, and getting people on wells hooked up to potable water. He’d also support structural overhauls in state governance, including making agency boards advisory rather than lawmaking bodies, and ending the use of ballot measures to enact new state laws.

This story first appeared in the Oregon Capital Chronicle.

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