Average Salem-Keizer school board campaign tops $25,000

School board candidates David Salinas (top left), Satya Chandragiri, Raul Marquez, Marty Heyen, Danielle Bethell and Chuck Lee.

Salem-Keizer voters will pick three school board directors tonight in a race that’s been significantly more expensive than prior elections.

The six candidates running to represent Keizer, northeast Salem and south Salem have collectively spent more than $150,000, campaign finance records show. That doesn’t include independent spending by political groups.

Chuck Lee, who’s seeking re-election in zone 6, representing Keizer, has raised more than $48,000 in cash and in-kind contributions and spent $50,500, making him the biggest spender by far of the six candidates running.

The bulk of that funding has come from United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555, campaign finance records show.

The union has spent more than $30,000 in in-kind support, which Lee said Tuesday was for canvassing and mailings.

They also gave Lee $2,500 in cash.

READ: In nonpartisan Salem-Keizer school board races, interest groups spend thousands

The group’s support of Lee isn’t new – campaign finance records show they contributed significantly to his 2014 unsuccessful campaign for state representative as an independent.

Lee ran unopposed for re-election to the board in 2015. He said his opponent, Danielle Bethell, is a “strong candidate” who’s forced him to mount a more active campaign.

He said he didn’t ask the union to contribute more, but secretary and treasurer Jeff Anderson lives in Keizer and has been a longtime friend.

“They look at it, I think, as a competitive race,” Lee said.

Anderson said the union stepped up its support for Lee to counter the influence of Oregon Right to Life funding in the race. The group gave Bethell about $3,700, making it her single largest contributor, though most of her contributions are from individuals and local businesses.

Anderson said the union is interested in bringing a meat cutter apprenticeship program back to Oregon and sees high school career and technical education as an important vehicle.

Lee works as the director of the Mountain West Career Technical Institute, the private arm of Salem-Keizer’s Career Technical Education Center.

“We rely on Chuck and his work in CTE,” Anderson said.

Lee has spent far more than Bethell. Her campaign has raised about $17,600, and spent nearly $15,000.

In 2017, the average Salem-Keizer candidate spent about $12,500 for the district’s three contested races. This year, that’s more than doubled to $25,800.

This year’s lowest spender is Marty Heyen, who’s seeking re-election in zone 2. She’s raised about $11,000 to date and drawn most of her financial support from Oregon Right to Life.

Voters have also received mailings supporting Heyen sent by the Women’s Leadership Coalition. According to campaign filings, the Keizer group’s political action committee is directed by Oregon Right to Life staff members.

Her opponent, Raul Marquez, has raised about $26,000, with more than half coming from unions, including PCUN, Oregon’s Latinx farmworker union.

READ: Seeking Latino representation, Oregon farmworker union throws muscle into Salem-Keizer school board races

In zone 4, which has no incumbent, Satya Chandragiri has raised nearly $36,000 and David Salinas about $30,000. Both men have received large sums from individual donors, though Salinas has significant support from PCUN and other unions, and Chandragiri from Oregon Right to Life.

As of Monday, Marion County has received about 30,000 ballots back, giving the county a 15% voter turnout.

Ballots can be dropped off until 8 p.m. Tuesday at any Marion County or Polk County drop site.

This article was updated at 3:52 p.m. to add comments from Anderson.

Reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.