Dear Neighbors,

As we turn the page on 2020 and enter the new year, I am taking some time to reflect on my last decade of service to our community. My journey began when I was honored with an appointment to the Bend-La Pine School Board nearly a decade ago. In 2018 I had the privilege of being elected to represent Bend in the Oregon House of Representatives.

I ran for the State Legislature because I believed that there was still room for us to come together to solve Oregon’s biggest problems in a bipartisan way – I still do. We are always stronger when we collaborate. Our ideas grow and blossom when we work together and learn from other’s life experiences and viewpoints. Policies serve our communities best when we listen to those affected, adapt to their needs and lead in a direction that serves many instead of the few.

When you are elected to office you never know what challenges you will be facing throughout your service. The COVID-19 pandemic brought great challenges to our community, state and country. Our children have missed over ten months of in-person learning. Working families have faced unprecedented levels of unemployment. PPE shortages have put our healthcare workers and first responders at risk. Small businesses have been hit tremendously hard by executive orders and closures. Too many families have lost a loved one to COVID-19. These have been unprecedented times, and as your State Representative, I hope I served you well.

When PPE was in short supply for our heroic health care and frontline workers, I advocated for more supplies for St. Charles hospital systems. When our hospitals, dentists and surgery centers were shut down, I worked hard to open them again so that Central Oregonians could receive the essential healthcare they need. When thousands of working families in Bend were struggling to receive their unemployment benefits, my office helped nearly 500 Central Oregonians navigate our broken unemployment system and get their checks expedited. Furthermore, I brought forward solutions to fix this broken system that I hope will be implemented so no family will never have to go through this again. Together we passed legislation to keep renters and homeowners in their homes. When promised tax money for our schools failed to materialize, we passed legislation to backfill $400M in education funding.

I have been a vocal advocate for safely reuniting our children with their teachers in school. As a legislature, we took a big step recently by providing our schools with liability protections from frivolous and opportunistic lawsuits that threatened to shut them down and keep them closed, even when following public health guidelines. Schools must safely reopen – our children’s future depends on it.

Education has been my passion – it’s why I ran for the Bend – La Pine School board where I served for eight years. Working together with local business, teachers, parents, administrative staff, students, school staff, higher education systems and our community to improve graduation rates, increase test scores and build 4 new schools were some of the highlights of my time on the school board. This work taught me that when we work together, we can overcome any obstacle to better and more efficiently serve our community. Our ideas become stronger when we listen to people affected by an issue. In these polarized times, it has become imperative to find common ground, collaborate and create policy that works for all Oregonians.

Oregon continues to have one of the lowest graduation rates in the nation. Our budgets reflect our priorities. Our children’s education should always be a top priority. In 2019 we passed the largest education budget in Oregon history. Although funding for our schools has increased, Oregon has a long path to ensure that our children receive a world class education.

One of the reasons my husband, Steve, and I moved to Bend was because of our love for the outdoors. As Oregonians we have a moral obligation to care and preserve our beautiful environment for future generations. In our personal lives, we always strive to find ways to be greener in our home and have chosen to purchase renewable energy for our business for over a decade. In the legislature, I was proud to support and pass legislation to ban plastic bags and straws, reject Trump’s attacks on the Obama-era EPA standards with legislation to keep those standards in place for Oregon, ban dirty diesel trucks and create a conservation fund for our state that will be matched with $1M in federal dollars.

Climate change is real, and we need to address it. For that reason, I could not support cap and trade. This policy does too little and costs too much. It fails to consider the cost to our working families, people in poverty, senior citizens on fixed incomes and our communities of color, while doing nothing to address environmental concerns with an imperceptible impact on emissions. I was proud to vote no and reject this inequitable, elitist and academic policy. We cannot continue to force California’s failed policies on Oregon. The real solution to address climate change will come when Oregon has the courage to work on a bipartisan solution with our environmental groups, businesses and advocates for our families in poverty and communities of color.

On healthcare, I broke with most in my party to increase funding for Medicaid for 400,000 Oregonians living in poverty. But one of my proudest fights, and one I will never waiver on, was for science. Vaccines work and vaccines save lives. Oregon has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country and HB 3063 would have removed non-medical exemptions for vaccines in schools, while preserving and strengthening medical exemptions. My stance on vaccines has been met with harsh criticism from those that oppose science. I didn’t ignore the critics – I listened. I heard their fears and concerns, and thanks to them, I worked with my colleagues to strengthen the bill by ensuring that naturopaths could also provide medical exemptions. The vote largely fell along party lines, and after the infamous walkout, the voices on the extremes prevailed and the bill died.

It is easy to assume that the voices of the extremes dominate our politics, and that is often true. But a great example of the result of bipartisanship, was legislation that I was proud to sponsor and will have a real impact for our working families. Oregon’s Paid Family and Medical Leave Act will give Oregonians up to 12 weeks of paid leave for those suffering from an illness, new mothers, victims of domestic violence and those caring for a loved one. This will provide a necessary benefit to Oregon employees at a rate that is fiscally prudent for our small and large businesses.

In Bend, we are still facing an affordable housing crisis – our supply of housing is low, and our costs are too high. Bend’s working families, and those on fixed incomes, are being priced out of Bend. It was imperative to address this crisis in the legislature.

To address our housing supply shortage, I wrote and passed HB 3450 to build mixed-use housing along 3rdStreet in Bend. This will boost the supply of housing choices near public transportation. I was also proud to be a member of the workgroup that wrote and passed HB 2001. This law ends single-family zoning for most of Oregon’s cities and allows for denser housing to be built where it wasn’t allowed before, creating more housing choices for Bend and bringing costs down.

As a legislator, you don’t always need a bill to fix a problem. You can bring people together with a common interest to find a solution – it’s called teamwork. During these divided and partisan times, Mayor Sally Russell, a Democrat, and myself teamed up to work on a project that will allow more housing to be built in Bend. We worked with the Department of State Lands and my colleagues in the legislature to sell 382 acres owned by the State inside our urban growth boundary in southeast Bend. The development of this land along Stevens Road will bring $450M to Bend and add 800 new jobs through 2028 while continuing to increase Bend’s housing supply.

Part of addressing our affordable housing crisis, is addressing our homeless crisis. I worked with The Bend Hero’s Foundation to bring together members of our City Council, County Commissioners, Central Oregon Veterans Organization, non-profit and business leaders from every corner of the political spectrum and got to work. We found common ground and a goal of building 15 tiny-homes with a community center including wrap-around services to help our homeless veterans get back on their feet. Veterans Village, and the group of dedicated individuals who worked together to tackle countless obstacles, will serve as a model for transitional housing for our veterans in Bend and across our State.

Oregon currently spends $0.94 on our homeless unaccompanied youth. These children have no food, no home

and no parents. Our friends in Washington invest 8 times that amount. This isn’t just unacceptable – it’s deplorable. We know of nearly 4,000 homeless children in Oregon. The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically impacted these children with shelters closing across our state. I have introduced legislation along with my colleague Rep Alissa Keny-Guyer (D-Portand) to increase funding by $2M for housing and wrap-around services for these children. We have introduced this bill nine different times, and while I can talk about the political rollercoaster that prevented this concept from moving forward, I want to focus on the light at the end of the tunnel. This week, the Legislative Emergency Board funded this program with an additional $1M. While I will no longer be in office, the House Republican Leader, Rep. Christine Drazan, and the House Democratic Leader, Rep. Barbara Smith Warner will be co-introducing this bill to increase funding and services for our homeless children.

I don’t think of myself as a partisan person. I have always led with independence, worked in a bipartisan manner and spoken to values we cherish in Bend. I have always stood up for our working families, valued community and charity, cared for our environment, operated with decency, believed in the Constitution and balanced the books at home and in my business with fiscal responsibility. I am appalled and saddened by the violence on the extremes, recent attacks on our democracy and efforts to overturn the will of the people. We are better than this. I believe we can come together and unite as a country and as a state. It is no longer just the legislature’s job to find common ground. It is also the responsibility of every Oregonian to find common ground with those we disagree with, reject divisiveness and strive towards unity. Moving forward, Oregon will need courageous leadership, a strong vision for its future, a spirit of innovation and working with our neighbors from every corner of our State.

It has been an honor to serve you and I look forward to seeing you around sunny, beautiful Bend.


Cheri Helt