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12th District House race could hinge on abortion rights

Rainbow businessman has outraised the Republican incumbent

A primary in rural Lane County will determine whether the Oregon House Republican caucus will include candidates who differ from the party line on abortion.

First-term Rep. Charlie Conrad, R-Dexter, faces a challenge from Republican business owner Darin Harbick in the 12th House District, which stretches south and east from Eugene to scoop up small rural communities including the McKenzie Valley, Creswell, Cottage Grove and Lowell.

Conrad has earned praise from colleagues and some constituents, including Democrats and nonaffiliated voters, for keeping an open mind about legislation and asking careful questions. But his decision to vote with Democrats on a 2023 law to widen access to abortions and protect medical providers from prosecution for providing reproductive health care or gender-affirming care angered some fellow Republicans, including his opponent, and earned him an official censure from the Oregon Republican Party.

Nonaffiliated voters, who can’t participate in the May primary, are the largest group in the district, with more than 19,200, compared to 16,800 Republicans and nearly 15,600 Democrats.

Conrad won a four-way Republican primary in 2022 by just 99 votes, then went on to capture 57% of the vote in the general election. No Democrats are running this year.

Conrad, 51, sees serving in the Legislature as a natural continuation of more than 20 years of public service as a police officer and corrections officer. He ran in 2022 when the seat opened – incumbent Rep. Marty Wilde, a Eugene Democrat, opted not to run after redistricting gave Republicans an advantage in the district – and his son graduated from high school. Conrad’s running for reelection because he feels he was successful in his first term.

He succeeded in securing more than $10 million in investments for his district, including more than $4 million for water and wastewater infrastructure in Lowell, Creswell and Cottage Grove, $900,000 for emergency communications equipment in Lane County and more than $140,000 for the Row River Fire Response.

“They don’t have a lot of money, but they still have the same needs, and so to be able to bring in resources to help them out so they can build that infrastructure, so they can be part of the solutions for housing, so that they can be part of the solutions to ensure that their citizens have safe water, that is something that I’m really proud of,” Conrad said.

It would be easy, he said, to vote no on every budget and policy bill that contains something he doesn’t like. Instead, he looks at each bill through the lens of how it could help people in his district and tries to work with other legislators, lobbyists and advocates to help others.

“We can either take some radical measures, stomp our feet, do walkouts, do a number of different things to get our point across, or we can do some different things, and my preference is to do those different things,” Conrad said. “It’s to always approach with a pragmatic open mind working on those solutions.”

Most voters he talks to aren’t focused on his vote on House Bill 2002, the controversial abortion and transgender health care law, Conrad said. They’re more concerned about emergency management, homelessness and housing. But when the issue comes up, he says he’s happy to explain his vote, as he did in an interview with the Capital Chronicle last year.

That vote led the Oregon Republican Party to vote last month to censure Conrad and vow never to financially support him in another election. The party called on the House Republican caucus to do the same, but the caucus thus far is standing behind Conrad.

In a statement endorsing Conrad, Deputy House Republican Leader Mark Owens praised him for standing up for conservative values.

“He is a thoughtful leader who stands up for the conservative values of his district,” Owens said. “Charlie works hard to understand the issues and to push back against government overreach. He brings the voices of his district to Salem and is a Republican who deserves to be reelected.”

Conrad’s largest campaign donors are the Oregon State Firefighters Council and the Coquille Indian Tribe, both of which gave $3,000 to Conrad’s campaign. State campaign finance records show he also received support from an eclectic group of nonaffiliated and Democratic supporters, including 2022 nonaffiliated candidate for governor Betsy Johnson; Patty Buehler, the wife of 2018 Republican gubernatorial nominee Knute Buehler, and Wilde, the district’s former Democratic state representative.

Conrad said the state Republican party, as well as the national Republican Party, is divisive and isn’t focused on actually doing work. That shows nationally with close to two dozen Republican Congress members, including several committee chairs, choosing to resign or not seek reelection this year. In Oregon, many elected Republicans have little to do with the state or local party apparatus – all House Republicans even publicly disavowed the state party’s resolution calling the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol a “false flag.”

“We don’t accomplish anything if we’re angry, yelling and engaging in demagoguery and rhetoric that just pulls people apart,” Conrad said. “I don’t approach this job with anger. I approach this job with focus on the challenges and what are the solutions to them? That keeps me grounded.”

Harbick, 55, said he was first drawn to politics in 2020 because of COVID-related restrictions on schools, businesses and churches. He announced a run for governor in 2021, then switched to running for the U.S. Senate, placing second in the Republican primary to take on incumbent Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden.

Since then, Harbick said he has paid more attention to legislative action and hasn’t been happy with what he’s seen.

“One of the laws that came through that piqued my interest was House Bill 2002, and when I found out that my state representative (was) the only Republican in Oregon who voted with the rest of the Democrats on that bill, I was outraged because I do not believe that is what House District 12 represents,” he said. “That was kind of a catalyst that put me into running a primary against Representative Conrad.”

Harbick has spent the past three months knocking on Republican voters’ doors in the district, and he says he tells everyone he speaks to that Conrad voted for 15-, 16- and 17-year-olds to get “transgender surgeries” without parental knowledge.

Existing state law passed before Conrad was in office already allowed teenagers 15 or older to consent to medical or dental diagnoses and treatments, including gender-affirming care, without parental consent. Medical standards of care for children and teens who identify as transgender do not include surgeries, though minors have received such surgeries, and doctors who testified before the Legislature said they typically try to include parents in conversations about their children’s care.

Nevertheless, Harbick opposes the law.

“I’ve talked to people that are not in my party about that House Bill 2002 vote, and parents alike whether you’re Republican, Democrat, non-affiliated are not happy that their rights have been taken away of how they can raise their kids and and make parental decisions together, that are life-changing decisions,” Harbick said. “So regardless of who I talk to – and yes I’m going to talk to a few that will not agree with that philosophy – but the bulk and the majority are in agreement.”

Harbick said he believed the House will be controlled by Republicans in 2025. When asked where he might be able to find common ground with legislative Democrats or Democratic Gov. Tina Kotek, he said that it would be a difficult task because Democrats have “been pushing bills through.”

He said his experience as a business owner – he owns logging company Harbick’s Inc., as well as Harbick’s Country Inn and the Ark77 Recovery Center – will be valuable experience in the Legislature. He supports cutting taxes on businesses, including the corporate activity tax on business receipts that critics describe as a hidden sales tax, as well as repealing a law that took effect in 2024 that raised minimum fines for businesses that violate state workplace safety laws.

“When the Legislature makes these rules and regulations and imposes them on businesses, they don’t understand the cost and what it’s going to do,” Harbick said. “I bring that expertise into the field when they start talking about these things, and I can explain how that’s going to directly affect me and other business owners.”

Harbick has received nearly $7,500 from the Oregon Right to Life PAC in the form of campaign literature. No current state representatives are financially supporting his campaign, though Rep. Boomer Wright, R-Coos Bay, has endorsed him.

Charlie Conrad

Party: Republican

Age: 51

Residency: Dexter

Education: Master’s in public administration from the University of Colorado, 2012; bachelor’s in wildlife science from Oregon State University, 1994

Current occupation: State representative

Prior elected experience: State representative since 2023

Family status: Married, one son

Fundraising: $48,680 as of April 23

Darin Harbick

Party: Republican

Age: 55

Residency: Rainbow

Education: diploma, McKenzie High School

Current occupation: Owner of Harbick’s Inc., Harbick Country Inn, and Ark77 Recovery Center

Prior elected experience: None

Family status: Married, three adult children

Fundraising: $101,182 as of April 23

Cash on hand: -$22,039 as of April 23


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