Oregon Public Broadcasting

Whether supporting a Republican or Democrat in the May primary, Oregon House District 2 voters could choose a candidate under 30 when they cast their ballots.

Freelance writer and South Umpqua School District Budget Committee member Natasha Bjornsen confirmed Thursday she will run as a Democrat for the seat held by Rosesburg Republican Tim Freeman, who will run next year for Douglas County commissioner.

At 28, Bjornsen of Myrtle Creek is 3 months older than Republican candidate Dallas Heard, a Myrtle Creek landscape contractor. Both candidates will turn 29 before the primary. If either were to win the District 2 seat in November, he or she could be the youngest person in the Legislature. Both are younger than any current member.

Bjornsen calls herself a moderate Democrat. She will face at least one other candidate, Kerry Atherton, 64, of Roseburg in the Democratic primary. Atherton is a retired district manager for Orenco Systems in Sutherlin and an outspoken critic of the tea party. Myrtle Creek computer business owner Mark Garcia, 48, will run as a Republican, along with Heard.

If Bjornsen has a buzzword, it's "compromise." She said she believes one of the Legislature's key problems is friction between the parties and says she would bring a moderate voice to the table.

"I think we need to find somebody who is willing to compromise to find something which may not be ideal for everyone but is acceptable to both sides," she said.

Bjornsen said Douglas County's economic woes and a passion for education fueled her desire to run for office.

"It's not my original plan for my life; however, I've watched while Douglas County has been - I don't want to say falling apart at the seams - but it seems to me we have been," she said.

Bjornsen said one place she does not want to see compromise is in the education budget.

"Funding for education is vital to everything we do from growing our economy, to creating better taxes, to being able to bring large businesses back to rural Oregon. We have plenty of land and space. We have plenty of people, certainly, but we don't have people who are educated to take those jobs," Bjornsen said.

Bjornsen said she approves of the way U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield, and House Republicans worked together to produce legislation that would conserve 1.2 million acres of Oregon and California Railroad and allow the remaining 1.5 million to be managed by a state panel for timber harvests.

"I think it's wonderful we have people sitting down in a bipartisan group to compromise," Bjornsen said.

"We have tourists who come specifically for environmental reasons, our trees, our deer, our salmon in our rivers and if they cut all those trees then tourism goes away. But if we conserve all those trees the timber industry goes away," she said.

Bjornsen said she opposes the Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline, which would move natural gas from Canada to a terminal at Coos Bay. She said the pipeline will infringe on landowners' rights and cause damage to streams and timberlands without providing any real benefit to Douglas County residents.

Bjornsen said she believes most jobs created by the project will require specialized skills.

"They're not going to give their jobs to us. They're going to give them to people from outside the area," she said.

- You can reach reporter Carisa Cegavske at 541-957-4213 or ccegavske@nrtoday.com.

This story originally appeared on Oregon Public Broadcasting.

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