Two candidates are running for the newly outlined Oregon Senate District 6 seat that covers a largely rural region. It includes much of Linn County, portions of south, north, and east Lane County and a part of Marion County.
Republican candidate and dentist Cedric Hayden currently represents District 7 in the Oregon House of Representatives. Last year, he co-sponsored successful legislation to create a grant program to assist low-income residents and to compensate wrongfully imprisoned individuals.
Democrat Ashley Pelton, a social worker, is a newcomer to local elections but worked with several advocacy groups including the National Association of Social Workers Legislative Committee, which advocated for the Crisis Assistance Helping Out on the Streets (CAHOOTS) expansion bill that passed in 2021.
Ashley Pelton, a passionate social worker
Pelton, 33, earned her master’s degree in social work from Pacific University in 2020. She lives in the unincorporated part of Cottage Grove with her husband and 1-year-old son.
She began seeking office after trying to support her dad, who faces substance abuse and mental health disorders, through episodes of manic psychosis in 2019. Pelton said she encountered hurdles because of the way laws are written.
“He loses construct of reality, he doesn’t understand social norms, and that puts him in a very horrible, dangerous position, because I’m unable to protect him during those times based on how the laws are written, specifically,” Pelton said.
She was eventually able to gain guardianship and conservatorship over him after months of him being in and out of hospitals. However, she recognizes that not everyone can afford to spend the time and money it takes to support their family members in mental crises.
Pelton now wants to change the laws surrounding mental health resources and outreach. She said she supports rural businesses, affordable housing and criminal justice reform.
“When we help our most vulnerable in our communities, we’re not just helping those individuals,” Pelton said. “We’re helping everyone that’s associated with those individuals. Those people are our students and our doctors and our social workers and all the people that make the fabric of our community.”
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She is advocating for the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion Program, which would bridge the “disconnect” between law enforcement and existing social and mental health services. She is also passionate about empowering local businesses through a community investment fund and a rural business mentorship program.
Although Pelton is running as a Democrat, she said she doesn’t want to emphasize a specific party, instead pushing a “rural agenda.”
“I’m not interested in party politics,” Pelton said. “I don’t think rural issues are left and right issues. When you really get to know a rural area, it’s very much foundational issues that impact our rural areas. I’ve just seen how the two-party system has been very divisive and weakened and divided our communities.”
According to the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office, Pelton’s campaign has raised about $20,000. It has spent about $16,000 as of Thursday.
Cedric Hayden, a dentist with a plan
For the past eight years, Hayden, 54, has served as the District 7 representative for Oregon. He’s now seeking a move to the Senate.
Hayden was unable to talk directly with The Register-Guard, as he was out helping fight wildfires and did not have cell service.
According to his spokesperson, Hayden owns and operates a heavy equipment company. During fire season, he runs a team that cuts fire lines and clears forest paths to support wildland firefighting efforts.
Hayden grew up in Oregon and currently lives in Fall Creek with his wife and five children. His father, Cedric Hayden Sr., was born in Eugene and also served in the Oregon House of Representatives.
According to his website, Hayden supports working-class families by opposing tax increases and supporting affordable healthcare and veterans’ rights.
Hayden is a dentist by profession, and he assisted in building a rural dental network of providers who serve Medicaid patients across the state.
As a legislator, he is vice-chair of the House Healthcare Committee and the House Committee on COVID-19. According to his spokesperson, Hayden is working to find ways to keep people on the Oregon Health Plan who are likely to fall off once their eligibility expires post-pandemic.
“Ensuring access to affordable healthcare is critical,” states Hayden’s website. “As a dentist, Cedric knows we need to make sure people in rural communities have the same access to providers as those in big cities. Cedric has supported safely expanding the types of care providers can offer, and he continues to support incentives that help doctors and nurses set up practice in rural communities.”
According to the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office, Hayden’s campaign has raised about $133,000 this year. It has spent about $103,000 as of Thursday.
Miranda Cyr reports on education for The Register-Guard. You can contact her at email@example.com or find her on Twitter @mirandabcyr.