Write-Ins and Repro Rights

Oregon House District 12 race is between a write-in, pro-choice Democrat and a pro-life Republican 

Michelle Emmons. Photo by Todd Cooper.

When the Democratic Party of Lane County came knocking on Michelle Emmons’ door, all she said was “Oh, no,” because, she says, “I know how much work it is to run a campaign.” 

While proud of winning 42 percent of the vote in her 2022 run for the House District 12 seat against Charlie Conrad, Emmons, a resident of Oakridge, says she was more than hesitant to throw her hat back into the ring.

House District 12 encompasses all of eastern Lane County, wrapping around the Eugene/Springfield metro areas out to Junction City, all the way south to Cottage Grove and all the way east past Oakridge. It even contains some parts of the south Eugene hills. 

Then the DPLC told Emmons, “we’ll take care of this” and helped operate a write-in campaign for the seat — only a couple days before votes would be tallied.

Immediately thinking of her responsibilities as deputy director of Willamette Riverkeeper and executive director of the Oakridge Trail Alliance — two Oregon-based nonprofits focused on outdoor, environmental conservation — Emmons says her candidacy isn’t under way because she has the time. 

It’s because she knew she had to step up.

Now, after a successful write-in campaign — with the help of DPLC and the Blackberry Pie Society, a political organization in Cottage Grove — Emmons moves on to challenge Darin Harbick, a hardline anti-abortion Republican. 

“The fear was stoked that if Harbick won, then there would only be a very right leaning candidate on the ballot and no one else to vote for,” she says.

On May 21, Harbick beat out incumbent representative Conrad with 6,699 votes — or 88 percent of the vote — winning the Republican nomination for the House District 12 seat.

According to Emmons and Conrad, the district is a microcosm of the entire state: a blend of urban, rural and everything in between voters. 

Conrad was a self-proclaimed pro-choice moderate Republican and is now a registered Independent. During the 2023 Oregon legislative session, he voted in favor of House Bill 2002, a piece of legislation codifying abortion rights.

According to his campaign website, Harbick’s number one priority is to overturn that bill.

Conrad says he believes that this vote is why he got “primaried” even in a district with 40 percent of voters registered as independents, 32 percent registered Republicans and 28 percent registered Democrats. He will continue to serve his district until January 2025. 

“My district represents a microcosm of Oregon given those voting demographics and range of political philosophy. I operate under that, yes, 60 to 70 percent of my constituents would agree with [HB2002],” Conrad says.

According to the Oregon Secretary of State campaign finance database, Oregon’s Right to Life PAC — a political action committee seeking to “protect innocent life,” i.e., restrict abortion access — made significant contributions to Harbick’s campaign. Of the $121,677.24 raised by Harbick, a total of $20,611.90 came from the PAC, some in the form of in-kind contributions, which are non-monetary goods and services.

Lois Anderson, executive director of Oregon’s Right to Life, spoke alongside members of the Charlie Conrad You Are Out PAC at a press conference in June 2023, vowing to do everything in their power to get him out of office — as reported by the Oregon Capital Chronicle.

Charlie Conrad You Are Out contributed $4,343.34 to Harbick’s campaign in an in-kind contribution, partially paying for the $42,257.81 bill from Intisar Strategies, a right-wing political consultant firm based in Salem.

Eugene Weekly reached out to Harbick’s campaign for comment, but did not get a response. 

Since her campaign was put on the ballot May 21, Emmons has as of yet only received $624 from in-kind contributions from the DPLC.  

HB 2002 not only protects every Oregonian’s fundamental right to make decisions regarding their reproductive health — including contraception, pregnancy continuation and termination — but also ensures that acceptance or refusal of said health care does not affect their eligibility for other kinds of assistance.

“It protects people’s rights. Nobody is mandated to do anything and nobody’s prohibited. To me that is the core of making decisions in your personal life based off your values, your beliefs and your circumstances,” Conrad says.

Other states with laws that penalize this kind of care are against state public policy, and Oregon law now prohibits issuing any subpoena connected to an out-of-state law related to abortion

It even adds provisions to protect health care providers from retaliatory actions by insurers or licensing bodies for providing this kind of care — extending the same protections to gender affirming care.

Despite losing the seat to Conrad in 2022, Emmons says she is more than ready to run again.

Emmons says she wants to expand access to all kinds of health care within her district — as it currently stands, there is only one emergency room in the area, in Cottage Grove. “How do we build equity among all the people in our district, and I’m not just talking about financial economics. I’m just talking about basics,” Emmons says. “How do we access health care? How do we find places that are safe for people to sleep?”

Expanded access will be a focus, but Emmons says it’ll be even more important to balance the nuances and differences of everybody in her district. “Food security in rural areas is much different than food security in urban areas. However, there are ways that you can build an agricultural economy and local market around food in a rural community that you cannot do as easily in an urban community, even though access to food is much easier because there’s retail stores and more variety,” she says. 

Emmons explains that this isn’t just her campaign, but a campaign for her entire community. “My strategy is working together with my constituents to make a difference,” she writes in a text message. “And that starts right now with engaging people about their priorities and concerns, finding common ground solutions that everyone can get behind.”

The race for House District 12 will hit the ballot on Nov. 5, along with everybody’s favorite perennial candidates, convicted felon Donald J. Trump and incumbent Joseph R. Biden.

 To find out more about Michelle Emmons campaign for House District 12, go to EmmonsForOregon.org.

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