Republican Sen. Denyc Boles. (Courtesy/Denyc Boles)

While serving in the Legislature, Denyc Boles said she drew confused reactions from people when she would pull up to the Capitol driving a Chevy Spark, a compact electric car.

“I was like, ‘Don’t put me in a box,’” said Boles, a Republican state senator who represents the Salem area.

Boles, 51, grew up in Salem and previously owned small businesses and served as staff in the Legislature. She currently works in community relations for Salem Health.

Twice in the last six years Boles was appointed to fill out the terms of Republican state representatives who resigned in the middle of their terms. In 2014, she replaced Kevin Cameron after he was elected Marion County commissioner. In 2018, she was again appointed to the same House seat, this time to fill out the term of Jodi Hack.

Most recently in 2019, Boles was appointed to replace Sen. Jackie Winters, a respected moderate Republican who was first elected in 2002, after she died.

Hoping to remain in the Senate, Boles will appear on the ballot for the first time as a candidate. She faces uncertain prospects.

Democrats have gained a small advantage in voter registration in the crescent-shaped district that includes south Salem and surrounding areas. Already dominant in the Legislature, Democrats are looking to keep or expand their 18-12 majority in the Senate.

Jim Moore, Pacific University professor and director of political outreach at the Tom McCall Center for Civic Engagement, said during a Salem City Club forum last month that an important issue in the race will be Boles’ participation in the Republican walk out of the 2020 session over climate change legislation.

“Is that going to move voters?” said Moore.

Political ads have already targeted Boles for her participation in the walkout, which shut down legislative action. But Boles, who has the backing of business groups and other elected Republicans, has been aggressively fundraising in hopes of staving off a challenge from Democrat Deb Patterson. She also faces a Libertarian candidate, Taylor Rickey.

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Republicans have said that keeping Boles and electing other GOP legislators will help serve as a counterweight to Democratic control of the Legislature and governor’s office. Jeff Heyen, chair of the Marion County Republicans, said Republicans will benefit from discontent over Gov. Kate Brown’s Covid restrictions and her response to riots in Portland.

“There are a lot of people who are disgusted by it who are Democrats,” he said.

He also noted that the most recent attempt to recall Brown fell short by less than 1% of necessary signatures to call for a vote. 

Priorities

Boles said her top legislative priorities if she stays in office include establishing a “running start” program similar to Washington where 11th and 12th graders can take courses at community and technical colleges for both college and high school credits.

Another priority is creating a navigator position at the Oregon Office of Emergency Management to help people recovering from an emergency get local, state and federal help.

Additionally, she would pursue legislation creating regional pilot programs based on the Strong Families, Resilient Neighborhoods in Marion County. The program integrates health care, supportive affordable housing, early learning education in targeted communities.

The Legislature will approve a new two-year budget in its upcoming session in January. Boles said she wants the budget to give schools flexibility to respond to the pandemic. She’ll also prioritize spending for Business Oregon, the state’s economic development agency, as well as cleanup from the historic wildfires.

Additionally, Boles said she’ll prioritize public safety, which she said is underfunded. She said Oregon has the second-lowest per capita state trooper force in the country.

She said she’ll also look into savings by stopping the state from paying rent to itself on state buildings. Currently, agencies pay to the state Department of Administrative Services to use buildings owned by the state.

Pandemic

In August, the governor announced a set of Covid benchmarks that communities would have to meet to return students to classrooms.

“I would like to see a little bit more community-based standards than instead of this one top down that we currently seem to have,” said Boles.

She wouldn’t cite any specific standards but said that some of the governor’s thresholds seem “almost impossible to reach.”

Childcare centers have been allowed to operate and Boles said they could serve as a model for in-person learning at schools.

While she said the state should take a more regional look at school reopening standards and consider using a combination of in-person and online learning, she acknowledged that Marion County is still struggling to control the virus.

Boles said there is a perception that Covid restrictions have been applied unevenly with many social gatherings banned while protests are allowed. She also pointed to how schools are closed for in-person instruction but are allowed to provide childcare.

Economy

Boles said that the Legislature should look at broadly easing taxes and regulations to help the economy but didn’t offer specifics.

While Boles supported legislation extending the state’s moratorium on evictions, she said she is concerned that it could create another crisis. She said that small private landlords count on their rental property for personal income.

“I think we're gonna need to provide some support to those folks,” she said.

Boles said she is looking into what policies could provide relief to such landlords and could include a break on property taxes.

Balance of power

During the campaign season, Republican Party officials have argued that reducing the Democrat’s majority in the Legislature would bring more balance to the state politically.

Boles said there is a lack of “checks and balances” with one party controlling the governor’s office and holding supermajorities in the Legislature. She said that when she came into the Senate she still expected to be able to work on a bipartisan basis. She said that Republicans had “no negotiating power.”

“Legislation really wasn't vetted, I think, to the level it should have been,” she said.

Walkout

Boles was among the Republicans to leave during the 2020 session to prevent a vote on controversial climate change legislation

Democratic legislators have insisted they compromised to win over Republicans. But Boles said they manipulated the process and had a “real lack of consideration” for how it would affect working families and the state’s economy.

“It was the only tool we had,” she said of the walkout. “So we took it.”

She described the walkout as a “sad day” but stands by her decision. The Republican senators were gone for nearly two weeks, some of them leaving the state.

Boles said that Oregon already has some of the lowest emissions in the country. Climate legislation should include more incentives and more input from industry early on, she said. 

The walkout scuttled hundreds of other bills being considered, including a proposal from Boles to provide free childcare for parents appearing in court. Boles said the failure of the bill isn’t having any impact because the pandemic has shut down any childcare at courthouses.

Police accountability

Boles supported legislation during the June special session that made police discipline records more accessible, effectively banned chokeholds and restricted police use of tear gas.

She said that in some instances police agencies had already put in place reforms sought by the legislation. For instance, she said, police departments in Oregon, including Salem, have banned chokeholds or restricted their use. She said more agencies police are integrating mental health workers on emergency calls.

Boles said the Legislature should proceed cautiously as it continues its work on police accountability and bring law enforcement officials into conversations early.

“We just need to be careful not to do a broad brushstroke,” she said.

Campaign cash

Total raised: $808,552.15.

Total spent: $856,198.71.

The Leadership Fund (Senate Republican political arm). $200,285. 

Oregon Business & Industry Candidate PAC. $73,000.

Oregon Realtors Political Action Committee. $53,500.

Jobs Political Action Committee. $40,000.

Oregon Beverage PAC. $39,000.

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