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Two Democratic candidates compete in primary in GOP-held southern Oregon House district

Lilia Caballero (left) and John Holm are competing in the Democratic primary for House District 6 in southern Oregon.
Campaign photos
Lilia Caballero (left) and John Holm are competing in the Democratic primary for House District 6 in southern Oregon.

The winner will run against a three-term Republican incumbent Kim Wallan in House District 6 this November.

A Medford School Board member and former grocery store clerk are running for the Democratic nomination in House District 6 in southern Oregon.

The Jackson County district, which includes Medford, is still recovering from the devastating Labor Day wildfires that struck the region in 2020, destroying thousands of homes in rural communities outside Medford and driving up housing costs beyond the reach of many working-class families. The two Democratic candidates hope to address the gap between wages and living expenses, including housing, albeit in different ways.

But first one must win the Democratic primary and then defeat the three-term incumbent Republican Rep. Kim Wallan of Medford, who was first elected to the House in 2018.

She has won handily in all three of her general elections, in the Republican-leaning district, with a concentration of voters in Medford. Nearly 29% are registered Republicans, while about 24% are Democrats, state voter registration data show. The remaining voters are unaffiliated or belong to third parties.

Here’s a look at the candidates:

John Holm

Party: Democratic

Age: 55

Residence: Medford

Current occupation: Unable to work

Education: Classes at Rogue Community College, Grants Pass, 1986-1987; graduate, Hidden Valley High School, Grants Pass, 1986

Prior elected experience: None

Family status: Unavailable

Fundraising: $0 as of May 13, 2024

Cash on hand: $0 as of May 13, 2024

Holm said he isn’t a traditional Democratic candidate.

While working in a grocery store in 1996, he was injured on the job and became disabled. He walks with a crutch and has nerve damage running from his left leg up to his lower back. In the past, he also has owned a comic book store and been a caregiver for family members.

Holm has never held elected office. Yet, he has big ideas he would like to pursue, such as wage fairness. He said the minimum wage needs to be consistent across Oregon rather than the current system, with a higher minimum wage in the Portland area – $15.45 per hour – compared with lower everywhere else. Rural Oregonians, with a minimum wage of $13.20, face higher costs in some areas compared to their Portland counterparts, he said, such as more wear and tear on their vehicles and other transportation-related costs.

The minimum wage should only serve as an introductory “training wage” for the first six months a person is on the job, he said. Afterwards, the minimum wage should increase to a “living wage,” he said.

Holm said a living wage would allow Oregonians to eat at nice restaurants and support local businesses.

Holm is also concerned about wildfires. Utility companies, he said, need to be held accountable if they fail to fix or upgrade equipment to prevent wildfires.

That’s what happened in 2020. State officials warned PacifiCorp, Portland General Electric and the Bonneville Power Administration of the wildfire risk before the Labor Day weekend, telling them to shut down lines, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported. PacifiCorp, accused of starting several devastating fires, faces $220 million in damages, OregonLive said.

“If they’re not going to start using their profits to start fixing their infrastructure, then Oregon should pull their utility ability and then buy them out, and then set it up as a state utility,” Holm said.

That money could be used for other needs like education and health care, he said.

“I’m just tired of watching the way things have been improperly done by some of these higher ups in the corporations,” he said. “They’ve been taking advantage of the people.”

Lilia Caballero

Party: Democratic

Age: 63

Residence: Medford

Education: Respiratory therapist certificate, Rogue Community College, 1999

Current occupation: Cultural outreach coordinator, Medford Police Department, 2007-present

Prior elected experience: Medford School Board member, 2015-present.

Family status: Unavailable

Fundraising: $5,580.08 as of May 13, 2024

Cash on hand: $4,281.98 as of May 13, 2024

Caballero said she is well-equipped to work for constituents with her experience working with diverse communities. Since 2007, she’s been the cultural outreach coordinator for the Medford Police Department.

That work entails tasks like outreach to the Latino community to educate them about the department and creating ties and understanding between the community and police officers. Caballero, who speaks Spanish, coordinates bilingual presentations about the police department and talks to community members to identify and respond to concerns.

She said the issues she would prioritize in Salem are affordable housing and access to both child care and mental health care.

“When our residents have steady jobs and have an income and they have savings, they should be able to buy a house here,” she said. “Right now that is not always possible.”

As a start, Caballero said she would try to build bridges with people to learn more about their needs. She said she would look for the best ideas by getting a lot of input.

“The best solutions are a result of communication and collaboration,” Caballero said. “I’m not really ready to say that I have all the answers.”

She’s also a member of the Medford School Board and prior to that, worked on school district committees that provided input on Latino students and families and long-term facilities planning.

“I feel like I have real skills and bringing people together, making sure that all voices are heard,” Caballero said. “As a member of the Medford School Board for nearly a decade, I know what it means to dig into issues and work proactively and in collaboration with others to find the best possible solution.”

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.