Jerry Rust. Photo by Sreedhar Photography.

OK, Boomer?

Former Lane County Commissioner Jerry Rust challenges state Rep. Boomer Wright

State Rep. Boomer Wright of Florence almost had an uncontested general election. But at the last minute, former Lane County Commissioner Jerry Rust decided to run against him after getting a call from a local high-ranking Democrat. 

“I realized that I would kick myself for the rest of my life if I don’t take this life to make a difference in people’s lives,” Rust says. “And that’s why I’m running.” 

Democrat Rust stepped out of retirement to run against Republican and Libertarian Wright for the House District 9 seat of the Oregon House of Representatives in the Nov. 8 general election. He says Wright hasn’t proven himself as a productive legislator and that he has voted against legislation that would benefit the community. As a former Lane County commissioner, Rust says he has the experience to represent the district. 

Wright climbed the ranks from school teacher to principal and ended his education career as superintendent at Mapleton School District in 2002. He retired from full-time employment in 2010 at the Sea Lion Caves, where he worked for five years, and ran for state representative in 2020. He says that he has secured a sizable amount of money for his district, and with another term he hopes to address youth mental health services and homelessness. 

HD 9 represents stretches of the coast, from Coos Bay to Florence, and runs to the eastern boundaries of Elmira. 

From 1977 to 1999, Rust served on the Lane County Board of County Commissioners. During that time, he says that he did what he could to ensure the government worked for the people. As a county commissioner, he says, one of his achievements was that he worked with various levels of government to help preserve the county’s historic covered bridges. 

If elected as state representative, Rust says he has the government experience to work with other legislators to get bills passed. HD 9 doesn’t have a legislator with political clout, he says. “It’s not all his fault,” he says of Wright. “The party that’s in control usually has the clout. But even when I’m not in the majority, I know how to make friends and find my way to the prize.” 

Wright says that in his first term, he’s helped secure more than $32 million for the district. Some of that money has gone to supporting the Coos Bay container shipping terminal, building a water treatment facility in Lakeside and helping veterans access transportation to receive health care services in the Willamette Valley. 

Among the differences between the two candidates is their stances on reproductive rights, Rust says. “Whether women will have the right to make their own choices or whether that choice would be taken from them, that’s a major issue.”

Wright is endorsed by the anti-abortion group Oregon Right-to-Life Political Action Committee, and in 2021 he joined 21 other Republican legislators to call for House Bill 2699, also called the Born Alive Act.  The bill would require health care practitioners to exercise proper care for a baby born after abortion or attempted abortion. 

Rust won the May 17 Democratic primary with 290 votes. Shortly after winning the write-in campaign, Rust created a campaign finance committee and has since raised about $18,000. His largest contributions are $1,000 from climate-focused PolicyInteractive Executive Director Tom Bowerman, $1,000 from Progressive Americans for Democracy Political Action Committee and $500 each from state Rep. Paul Holvey and state Sen. Floyd Prozanski. 

Wright’s campaign account is more than four times larger than Rust’s. His largest contributions are $10,000 from state Rep. David Brock Smith of Port Orford, $5,000 from Oregon Hospital Political Action Committee and $4,000 from the Coquille Indian Tribe. 

Wright voted in favor of establishing the Elliott State Research Forest, but he says that he opposed it at first until he was told it was the best compromise for environmentalists and resource extraction interests. If re-elected, he says he wants to serve on the forest’s advisory committee to ensure there’s continued compromise occurring. 

“I want people to respect what the intent of the law was,” Wright says. “There needs to be a balance of harvest, there needs to be a balance of protection. There needs to be a balance of public use.” 

Rust is challenging Wright as the Republican finishes his first two-year term in the Oregon House of Representatives. He says that Wright hasn’t been present in the district community that much and that he hasn’t proven himself to be able to get anything done in the Legislature. “There’s a lot more you could do with this office than he has done in his first two years,” Rust says. 

Rust says Wright voted against legislation that would have improved the lives of Oregonians. He points to Senate Bill 844, which ultimately went into effect. The bill created a commission to investigate and review prices for nine drugs and one insulin product. “Boomer voted against that three times,” he says. 

Wright says he hasn’t had legislation passed that he’s pushed for because he doesn’t want to create bad law. But he says with a second term he wants to push for giving parents more powers to admit a child — with or without consent — to a treatment facility for mental, emotional or substance use. It’s a bill that he introduced in the 2022 legislative session but he says he withdrew it to work on it more. 

Wright says that he also plans to work on addressing homelessness in each of HD 9’s communities. “That’ll be one of my major focuses of the next two years,” he adds. 

A major issue that Rust says will dominate voter concerns is around housing and lowering its cost to an affordable level. He says the ways to look into increasing the housing supply is through addressing design, materials, zoning and planning. 

Time is running out to address housing, Rust says, as Coos Bay is looking at economic development, such as the container shipping facility, that could create hundreds or even thousands of jobs. “But we don’t have housing right now,” he says.