BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) – Recent negative ads from the campaign of Rep. Cheri Helt, R-Bend, about Democratic challenger Jason Kropf sparked the sharpest exchange Monday evening in the House District 54 candidates’ half-hour debate on NewsChannel 21.
“I understand that campaigns are about making clear the choices voters face. But … you’ve been outright lying about my commitment as a prosecutor here in Deschutes County to keep our community safe,” Kropf said when candidates got to ask each other a question.
Kropf, a deputy district attorney, accused Helt of lying in the ads, which note that he did not comment publicly on DA John Hummel’s claim that human trafficking does not exist in the county, or about a tort notice filed by former prosecutor Jasmyn Troncoso, who has alleged racism and sexism in the DA’s office. (An investigator recently found most claims unsubstantiated; Troncoso indicated she plans to proceed with a lawsuit.)
Kropf, who defended his 15-year record as a prosecutor of abuse and domestic violence cases, indicated in his question that he believes Helt’s ads could discourage others who need help from coming forward.
“Did you stop to think that you were potentially putting my family at risk, or were you just worried about getting re-elected?” he asked.
Helt replied: “You are not a victim. I am not a victim. I am not putting out lies. We each have a record. I am proud of the record that I have. I have a 10-year record that’s strong on education, that’s strong on housing, that's strong on health care. You have a record of silence. You have silently stood by when your boss denied that human trafficking exists. You have silently stood by when a co-worker of yours has come forward with allegations of harassment.
“And to say that you are a victim, when you are a white male that is privileged in the most powerful office in our county, is just irresponsible,” she continued.
Helt, given the chance to ask her question, asked Kropf if he believes Troncoso and whether anyone in the DA’s office, Kropf’s campaign or his endorsers “reached out and asked her not to speak for your political gain?”
Kropf replied, “I always start from a place of believing survivors. Discrimination and harassment have no place in our community, and no place in our workplace.” He said he fully supports his former colleague’s
“right to access the justice that she is seeking.”
He noted that he’s not named in Troncoso’s action, and doesn’t believe it’s his place “to use another person’s experiences and stories for some sort of political soapbox for this campaign. I strongly believe that this person's experiences should not be sensationalized for the political gain of others.”