Rep. Cheri Helt (R-Bend), who is locked in a reelection battle with statewide consequences, today received a surprising endorsements of sorts.
Jasmyn Troncoso, who worked at the Deschutes County District Attorney's Office as a deputy district attorney alongside Helt's Democratic challenger, Jason Kropf, tells WW she would vote for Helt if she still lived in Oregon.
Troncoso is a central figure in the heated race for House District 54 in Central Oregon—because Helt has made a campaign issue of Troncoso's allegations of racism and sexism in Kropf's workplace. Troncoso now tells WW she thinks that Helt's attack is fair—and showed WW emails from the Oregon Trial Lawyers Association that asked her to denounce Helt or keep quiet.
Troncoso says Helt is being honest—and Kropf isn't. "I think honesty is the most important thing," Troncoso says. "She [Helt] hasn't been dishonest. I see dishonesty on Kropf's part, a lack of integrity."
Troncoso, who now works at the DA's office in San Bernadino County, Calif., but was briefly a colleague of Kropf's, quit her job in Deschutes County in March. She alleges the work environment there was "toxic and hostile" and that she was treated differently because she was Hispanic and a woman, alleging "race and sex discrimination" under federal and state law in a notice of claim she filed against the DA's office.
Troncoso does not name Kropf as a perpetrator in her legal filings, but Helt started running ads against Kropf, accusing him of failing to speak up about the office where he worked, on the basis of that complaint.
"Jason Kropf did nothing and said nothing," Helt's ad states. "If Jason Kropf won't stand up for a woman in his own workplace, can we trust him to stand up for us in Salem?"
Troncoso says that's right. "Has he supported me? No."
Troncoso says she'll vote a straight Democratic ticket in California, but if she were still in Oregon, she'd vote for a Helt even though she's a Republican.
Helt, who won the seat vacated by former Rep. Knute Buehler (R-Bend) in 2019, faces a stiff reelection battle. Democrats hold a 16% voter registration advantage in her district. That's made Helt perhaps the top target of Democratic interest groups as they attempt to stretch Democrats' advantage in the House from 38-22 to 40-20. If they can get to 40 seats, Democrats will have a quorum and no longer be vulnerable to GOP walkouts like the one Republicans staged earlier this year.
Those stakes have raised the visibility of Troncoso's complaint.
Kropf called on Helt in an Oct. 12 debate to take down the ads referring to Troncoso. Troncoso doesn't want Helt to comply.
"I feel that her using them is definitely for political gain," Troncoso said. "However, I feel she's making a legitimate claim."
As WW previously reported, Kropf pledged Oct. 13 to return campaign contributions from the Oregon Trial Lawyers Association after allegations emerged that a representative of that group approached Troncoso's attorney and asked her to stay silent. (He has now refunded $10,000.)
Troncoso provided WW copies of that email exchange.
"Obviously, the Kropf campaign would love for your client to publicly ask Helt to stop politicizing the traumatic event your client went through," an OTLA representative wrote to Troncoso's attorney on Oct. 9. "My personal sense is that what is best for your client might be complete silence as we discussed when we talked."
The email also included this disclaimer:
"I have two bottom lines," the OTLA rep continued. "1. OTLA PAC should sever our link with candidates who are credibly linked to sexual discrimination or harassment. So far, not the case here. 2. You and your client should react in whatever manner is in your client's best interest."
Troncoso says she thinks Kropf's campaign knew OTLA was asking her to denounce the ads, given that the email cites campaign preferences. (Kropf says he didn't know.)
OTLA executive director Beth Bernard said a representative of the association had a previous conversation with Troncoso's attorney, in which he had suggested they planned to ignore the ads. She reiterated that OTLA members represent victims and the association would never tell anyone to remain silent, because that's "fundamentally not who we are and what we stand for."
"She should speak out if that's what she wants to do, of course," Bernard said.
Earlier this week, a long list of liberal groups sent Kropf an email stating they were standing by their endorsement of him and were disturbed by the ad.
"Politicizing sexual harassment or discrimination does not serve Bend residents; however, it does put a chilling effect on people coming forward to report said harassment for fear of having their story becoming a part of a political ad," wrote the groups. led by Planned Parenthood PAC of Oregon, in an Oct. 12 email. "It's disappointing and disturbing the way your opponent has sensationalized sexual violence, harassment, and discrimination throughout this campaign. We would expect elected leaders to know better, and are sure that you will not do so in your campaign."
The underlying issue is laid out in a series of complaints Troncoso filed, including a notice of claim filed in May.
Troncoso also sent the DA's office a demand for $135,000 and subsequently filed a complaint in June with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries that is still under investigation. She alleges that her colleagues commented on her weight, accusing her of being anorexic, "dumb" and "ditzy," and of being hired because her boss wanted to sleep with her. She says she was subjected to insults because she spoke Spanish. The DA's office has released results of an internal investigation, which did not confirm anything in her complaint except that one employee of the department had a coffee mug that read "No Habla Fucktardo."
Kropf campaign officials say Kropf has never made any sexually charged or biased comments about her and was unaware of any of the allegations Troncoso made until she filed a notice of claim.
"Jason is running to stand up for those who often don't have a voice, which is why he supports Ms. Troncoso's right to seek justice," says Kropf campaign spokesperson Maddie Woodle. "It's important to clarify that OTLA was not operating on behalf of the campaign. As reported earlier this week, Jason returned contributions from OTLA as soon as he found out about this. Jason always comes from a place of believing survivors."