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Three Republicans seek to unseat Brock Smith in 1st Senate District on southern coast

From top left: Ashley Hicks, Paul J. Romero Jr. and Todd Vaughn (bottom left) are running in the Republican primary in southern Oregon Senate District 1, hoping to unseat incumbent Sen. David Brock Smith (bottom right).
Campaign photos
From top left: Ashley Hicks, Paul J. Romero Jr. and Todd Vaughn (bottom left) are running in the Republican primary in southern Oregon Senate District 1, hoping to unseat incumbent Sen. David Brock Smith (bottom right).

No Democrats are running which means the primary winner will represent the district in Salem for the next four years.

An unusual four-way Republican primary race is afoot in the 1st Senate District along the southern Oregon Coast.

The primary race pits the incumbent, Sen. David Brock Smith, R-Port Orford, against three fellow Republicans, who have diverse backgrounds in business, logging and construction.

With no Democrats filed to run for the seat, the winner will become the next senator in the heavily Republican district, which has nearly twice as many registered GOP voters as Democrats.

This is the first time in at least six years that Brock Smith has faced even one Republican challenger and comes at a time when he is fighting misinformation. He had his attorney send a cease-and-desist letter to a House candidate and a former conservative radio host to stop making false statements that suggest Brock Smith is tied to the Chinese Communist Party.

He is not.

Brock Smith’s opponents also are fretting about the prospect of offshore wind turbines off the Oregon coast and believe he is pushing for their installation. That isn’t the case either, he said.

Here’s a look at the candidates and their policy positions:

David Brock Smith

Name: David Brock Smith

Party: Republican

Age: 47

Residence: Port Orford

Education: Courses at Southern Oregon Community College and Southern Oregon University, 1995-1998; Pacific High School high school graduate, 1995.

Current occupation: State senator

Prior elected experience: State senator since January 2023 after appointment to fill a vacancy; member of the state House, 2017-2023; Curry County commissioner, 2013-2017; Port Orford city councilor, 2005-2012; and Port Orford-Langlois School Board, 2010-2018.

Family status: Unavailable 

Fundraising: $219,771 as of May 9, including 2023.

Cash on hand: $16,136 as of May 9.

Brock Smith is a familiar sight in Salem. He served in the House for nearly six years before being appointed to the coastal Senate seat after Republican Dallas Heard resigned.

Brock Smith said he plans to focus on management of Oregon’s natural resources and fight against what he says are “unattainable goals” for carbon reduction. Oregon aims to cut emissions by 50% by 2035 and 90% by 2050, with about a quarter of that reduction from natural gas. Brock Smith said those goals are unattainable because the technology doesn’t exist to wean the state off fossil fuels. Cold snaps demonstrate the need for traditional energy sources, he said.

“Natural gas is critically important to create the energy to deal with the load needed to keep people warm, and safe and alive,” Brock Smith said.

Brock Smith also supports better forest management, including of the national forests.

For example, he’s pushed for thinning forests and prescribed burns to reduce wildfire risks.

As a House representative, he also championed a bill to research the prospect of wind energy off the Oregon coast. His proposal, House Bill 3375, required the state to review the benefits and disadvantages of offshore wind production and required public involvement on the concept. It passed with bipartisan support but fueled misinformation about his policy positions, he said.

His opponents insist it’s proof that he wants to install offshore wind turbines along the coast, which he denies. Brock Smith said the law has actually slowed federal efforts to allow offshore wind leases along the coast.

“It was passed unanimously by the House for a reason and it was because, frankly, we needed this,” he said. “We needed a seat at the table.”

Brock Smith said he’s sent out a 21-page letter to constituents about his position but said that opponents aren’t backing down.

“They just either are not reading it or just choose to perpetuate the lie,” he said.

Paul Romero Jr.

Name: Paul J. Romero Jr.

Party: Republican

Age: 57

Residence: Roseburg
Education: Bachelor’s in workforce education and development, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, 2010; additional courses in mechanical engineering and mathematics, University of Louisiana 2004-2006.

Current occupation: CEO, Youwalk Today, Inc., a medical device company

Prior elected experience: None.

Family status: Married with five children, three biological and two foster children

Fundraising: $750 as of May 9

Cash on hand: No money as of May 9

Romero is a frequent candidate on the ballot. In the past decade, he has run in different races, including for congressional and

U.S. Senate seats, and in 2022, he ran for governor. But he’s never been elected.

Like other challengers in the primary, Romero said he fears that offshore wind turbines will pop up along the coast and undermine the region’s way of life if the incumbent senator remains in office. Tribal communities worry about the effect of turbines on the environment and fishermen say they could hurt their livelihood. Romero called them a “dumb idea on its face because maintaining a windmill onshore is difficult enough without putting it in the ocean.”

Romero said he would focus on fiscal frugality as a legislator. He said he would support ending the state income tax and replacing it with a state sales tax, but not on groceries.

Other than that, Romero said he’s opposed to any new taxes or fees, such as tolls to pay for highway or bridge projects. The money that Oregon taxpayers received this year through the kicker – which gives tax money back when state revenues exceed projections – demonstrates the state collects more than it needs, he said.

“We have to get back to where we’re taking care of the things the state’s required to do to provide security for the state to make sure it’s conducted to promote economic growth and does not stifle it,” he said.

Romero added he would like to see property taxes drop, too, as part of statewide tax reform that he said would take a “year or two.”

“I think that’s something that every legislator and every governor should be working towards,” he said. “Because with all the money they’re bringing in, they’re not actually increasing our economy.”

Ashley Hicks

Name: Ashley Hicks

Party: Republican

Age: 43

Residence: Roseburg

Education: Pre-nursing and small business classes, Umpqua Community College.

Current occupation: Drywall contractor

Prior elected experience: Former Roseburg City Council member, 2016-2020

Family status: Unavailable

Fundraising: Unavailable.

Cash on hand: Unavailable.

Hicks, a drywall contractor and former Roseburg City Council member, said she has demonstrated her commitment to serving the community in office and as a business owner by listening to constituents and focusing on community improvements. She said she has also served as a volunteer leading river cleanup projects in the area.

Hicks said she wants to address squatters rights in Oregon, which allows them to claim legal ownership of property after continuously living on it without permission for at least 10 years. Hicks said she became aware of the issue when her mother died earlier this year and she was forced to go to court to evict squatters from the property. Hicks said it’s ludicrous for squatters to have rights after living on property without permission.

“If there’s not a tenancy agreement, there should be absolutely no squatters rights at all,” she said. “That shouldn’t even exist. Because what these individuals are doing is just breaking into places.”

Hicks also would like to see Measure 110 funding go toward emergency residential housing and mental health and addiction treatment. Measure 110 funding comes from a portion of cannabis tax revenues and pays for a variety of addiction-related services and programs. Voters passed the measure in 2020, which also decriminalized possession of small amounts of hard drugs, though lawmakers this year passed a new misdemeanor penalty with treatment programs.

Hicks also supports community engagement in policymaking, something she said she learned from being on Roseburg’s City Council.

“If you cut the community out of the decision-making process, then you start getting hit or miss and retaliation and then everybody’s upset,” Hicks said.

Todd Vaughn

Name: Todd J Vaughn

Party: Republican

Age: 64

Residence: Tiller

Education: Courses in business and engineering at Arizona State University, 1979-1981; graduated from Camelback High School in Phoenix, 1977.

Current occupation: Logger

Prior elected experience: None

Family status: Married, three grown children, four grandchildren

Fundraising: $24,145 as of May 9.

Cash on hand: $5,112 as of May 9.

Vaughn, a logger in Tiller, said he’d offer a fresh perspective in Salem as a candidate who is not seeking a political career.

Vaughn said he believes forests are becoming too regulated and restricted, with habitat conservation plans that limit logging and the ability of local communities to thrive.

Vaughn said he fears a dystopian future for Oregon, one in which global powers will have their way and force environmental policies upon citizens without Oregon legislators who are willing to preserve the state’s rights to set policies, such as for the management of land and timber.

Vaughn said he’s also concerned about “world powers” with a global plan to subvert the nation’s sovereignty. He connects the plot to the Chinese Communist Party and the World Health Organization, without offering evidence.

And eventually, he said, these will be local issues.

“They say all politics is local,” he said. “Well, sooner or later, even these things that are happening on a global level, work their way down to us in the counties.”

Vaughn said that Brock Smith’s House Bill 3375 about wind turbines is an example of outside influence taking root in the state.

The bill did not allow wind turbines on the coast – or approve any specific projects. It only allowed a study with public turbines. Still, Vaughn remains concerned.

“The people on the coast do not want the windmills to happen, it will actually decimate the fishing industry,” Vaughn said. “I’m already working on helping push back and helping those communities to push back against these windmills.”

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.