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Race for Linthicum’s Klamath Falls Senate seat pits his wife against county commissioner

Dave Henslee and Diane Linthicum are competing in the Republican primary for state Senate District 28 in central and southern Oregon. No Democrats are running so the primary winner will have the job.
Campaign photos
Dave Henslee and Diane Linthicum are competing in the Republican primary for state Senate District 28 in central and southern Oregon. No Democrats are running so the primary winner will have the job.

The incumbent is barred from serving another term under a voter-passed law that bars legislators from serving subsequent terms when they have too many unexcused absences.

Two Republicans are competing for the Klamath County Senate district currently held by Republican Sen. Dennis Linthicum: Linthicum’s wife and a Klamath County commissioner.

No Democrats are seeking the seat in the heavily Republican 28th District, which stretches from the California border to central Oregon just south of Bend and includes all of Klamath County and parts of Deschutes and Jackson counties. That means the primary winner will replace Linthicum, who is disqualified from rerunning because of his participation in the 2023 GOP-led Senate walkout. He’s running for secretary of state instead.

His wife, Diane Linthicum, has obvious name recognition but so does her opponent, Dave Henslee, who’s a former police chief in Klamath Falls and currently serves on the county commission.

Here’s a look at the two candidates:

Dave Henslee

Name: Dave Henslee

Party: Republican

Age: 53

Residence: Merrill

Current occupation: Klamath County commissioner, rancher, former police chief

Education: Bachelor’s degree in political science, Oregon State University, 1993.

Prior elected experience: Klamath County commissioner, elected in 2022

Family status: Married, three adult children

Fundraising: $34,857 raised as of April 23.

Cash on hand: $28,271 as of April 23.

In an interview, Henslee said he would bring a long record of public service and a willingness to work with others to find solutions.

He had a nearly 28-year career in law enforcement, most of it at the Corvallis Police Department, where he was a police officer for 22 years, rising to the rank of captain. In 2015, he became the chief of police in Klamath Falls before his retirement from law enforcement in 2021. The next year, he was elected to a two-year term as a Klamath County commissioner.

Henslee said public safety would be a priority if he were elected, including addressing the state’s drug addiction crisis. As a senator, Henslee said he would want to build upon House Bill 4002, which will create a new misdemeanor in September for low-level drug possession while trying to steer drug users toward addiction treatment instead of jail. Lawmakers passed the bill this session in response to the fentanyl epidemic.

That bill made funding available for counties that opt to start programs for drug users, all without court charges or jail time. So far, 23 of Oregon’s 36 counties have agreed to set up the programs, including Henslee’s Klamath County. If elected, Henslee said he would look for long-term funding for the programs so they don’t turn into an unfunded mandate for counties.

“I’m on board, it’s going to be great, and it’s going to provide access to recovery or treatment for recovery of citizens,” Henslee said. “But what’s the long term sustainable funding plan for that?”

He said lawmakers should respond to any improvements in fatal overdoses with funding that treatment providers can rely upon.

“If we see a decrease in deaths of Oregonians from drug use, and we see an increase in availability and access to treatment, then I’m going to want to push really hard to continue that momentum to provide that resource to Oregonians,” Henslee said.

Henslee was among a group of law enforcement officials, district attorneys and others in the National Association of Counties and the Association of Oregon Counties’ public safety committee, which he co-chairs, who lobbied lawmakers in recent months to unwind Measure 110 and recriminalize possession of small amounts of drugs .

Henslee said he is proud of that effort.

“We need to do a little more work to make sure that people not only have access to treatment, but people are going to treatment and have opportunities to be successful through treatment in their recovery,” he said.

Henslee said it’s important for communities to have flexibility as they build out programs to treat people and keep them out of jail. What works in one community may not work in another, he said.

Other issues are on Henslee’s radar too, like the economy and natural resources.

For example, Henslee said, the state needs policies with more flexibility to allow more but responsible logging to thin out forests and reduce the devastation from wildfires that are expected to become increasingly frequent with climate change.

“I really think that we need to be focusing on policy that allows us to use our natural resources in a way that protects them for future generations, but also benefits the current generation, and I think sometimes we’re failing to do that,” he said.

Henslee, as one of three commissioners, played a key role in helping to craft the county’s five-year strategic plan by working with residents and county employees. The plan sets the counties’ priorities through 2028, calling for a focus on the economy, public safety, housing, recreation and government.

Henslee said when he took office in 2022, he found out that the county didn’t have one.

“I walked into my office, and I said to staff, ‘Hey, where can I find the county strategic plan?’” he said. “And they said, ‘We don’t have one.’”

In response, Henslee led an effort to develop one, saying it’s good for officials to have so they know what direction the county is headed and the community’s expectations when they make decisions.

The county hired a consulting firm, setting up a committee and getting input from nearly 1,300 community members, Henslee said. He served as the liaison between the committee and the county commissioners.

“I prioritized developing that strategic plan based heavily on the needs and expectations of our community,” Henslee said.

Henslee said he’s not an expert in every topic that comes up in the Legislature but said he’s humble enough to ask questions and educate himself before making decisions.

Henslee said he would work in a collaborative way in a Democrat-dominated Legislature, even when others have different opinions. Regardless of what one’s opinion is, Henslee said, everyone deserves to be heard and respected with open and transparent debate.

“All of us come to any topic with a different opinion,” he said. “I like to hear what those different opinions are because I think it opens our minds and broadens our horizons when we listen to each other and we have differences. And I’m going to approach Salem with an open mind. I’m going to listen to the differences.”

Diane Linthicum

Name: Diane Linthicum

Party: Republican

Age: Unavailable

Residence: Beatty

Education: Studied business at Orange Coast College and Rio Hondo College, both in California

Current occupation: rancher and legislative chief of staff for Sen. Dennis Linthicum

Prior elected experience: None.

Family status: Married, two grown children 

Fundraising: $35,119 raised as of April 23.

Cash on hand: $11,761 as of April 23

Linthicum, whose husband has endorsed her, didn’t respond to multiple emails and phone calls seeking an interview.

She has served as chief of staff in her husband’s Senate office and also worked as a rancher. In her statement in the state’s voters guide, Linthicum said she’s committed to rural values and liberty without government interference.

“Special interests and heavy-handed bureaucracies are creating social turmoil for families and businesses while destroying our natural resource economy,” her statement said. “Farmers, ranchers, water-right holders, (agriculture) producers, foresters and main street businesses are quickly losing their ability to manage their interests.”

Lithicum also said she will “oppose needless intrusion and regulation by Salem Democrats.”

Her priorities listed in the voters guide include advocating for “age-appropriate” education materials and school choice, which means using public money for education beyond the local public option.

She supports in-person voting and overturning Oregon’s sanctuary law that prevents state and local law enforcement from helping federal authorities crack down on undocumented immigrants.

She also opposes abortion and has garnered support from Oregon Right to Life PAC.

The Oregon Capital Chronicle is a professional, nonprofit news organization. We are an affiliate of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers. The Capital Chronicle retains full editorial independence, meaning decisions about news and coverage are made by Oregonians for Oregonians.

Ben Botkin covers justice, health and social services issues for the Oregon Capital Chronicle. Ben Botkin has been a reporter since 2003, when he drove from his Midwest locale to Idaho for his first journalism job. He has written extensively about politics and state agencies in Idaho, Nevada and Oregon.