Cheri Helt's Attack Ads Against Jason Kropf
To my fellow members of our Indivisible Bend community:
I’m assuming that, like me, you have been inundated with political mailers and TV ads from Republican Cheri Helt in which she accuses her opponent for House District 54, Democrat Jason Kropf, of being a dangerous person who encourages sex trafficking and sexual abuse.
As an activist and scholar, the truth matters to me. Words have power. I'm writing to you today, not as one of the leaders of Indivisible Bend but as the author of a book on gender-based violence, rape culture, and the #MeToo movement.
I hope you'll bear with me as I break down the primary falsehoods of Cheri’s campaign as well as the political motivation behind them. The challenge for those of us who work on engrained oppressive systems like sexism and racism is to approach these issues with nuance and critical thinking instead of falling into knee-jerk reactions that can actually perpetuate the problems we are trying to solve. If this essay makes sense to you, I also hope you’ll share it with your friends and family prior to the election.
Many of Cheri’s ads feature a scared white girl who we are supposed to think is a victim of sex trafficking. Fact: Most victims of sex trafficking are girls and women of color. Cheri’s other ads claim she’s a working mom like me, which is code for “middle class white lady.” Her ads are trying to scare middle class white women into thinking their white children are in danger. This reinforces rape myths that ignore the actual threat to women of color. It is also coded language to the supporters of the conspiracy promulgating group QAnon.
Cheri's ads accuse Jason of minimizing the issue of sex trafficking in Central Oregon. She does this by printing an out-of-context quote from District Attorney John Hummel over Jason's picture. A quick scan of the flyer makes it seem as if Jason is saying sex trafficking doesn't matter, which he never said. If Cheri is so upset about the issue of sex trafficking, why didn't she say something about it nearly a year ago when Hummel made that statement? Fact: Cheri Helt actively pursued John Hummel's endorsement for this campaign.
Cheri calls Jason a “do-nothing” on the issue of sex abuse. Fact: As deputy DA, Jason has aggressively prosecuted sex offenders. He has dedicated his career to protecting at risk youth. During Cheri's term in the legislature, Deschutes County had a chance to acquire an additional judicial position, which is badly needed because our local court is understaffed. Her party walked out of Salem, killing the possibility for us to get another judge. Who does that hurt? Crime victims like the ones Cheri claims to care so much about.
Cheri is running ads that implicate Jason in a sexual harassment case at the DA's office where he works even though she knows he is not at fault. In a recent letter, Cheri wrote, "I am not alleging that Mr. Kropf had anything to do with the inappropriate behavior inside the DA’s office. He has not. Rather, his silence sends a disturbing message." Fact: As an attorney and an employee of a department involved in a legal action that has not yet been resolved, it is both unethical and frankly potentially harmful to the woman involved for Jason to comment publicly on the case.
Racism and sexism are engrained in our institutions. We need to address these issues with actual policy and reform. Cheri's ads imply that if Jason would just say the right thing, suddenly all the problems would go away. Cheri is using a woman of color as a political tool against her opponent. Why? Fact: The only reason Cheri won her seat in 2018 is because her former opponent had credible accusations of sexual assault leveled against him and Democrats (including me) withdrew support. She’s hoping to use the same playbook by confusing and misleading people.
Addressing gender-based violence has never been and still is not part of Cheri's platform. She's bringing it up now as a political weapon against an opponent in the final weeks of an election. Fact: Cheri is running as a Republican with Republican support and Republican money. The leader of her party is a sexual predator. Her party put Brent Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court. Her party ripped children from families and put them in cages. Locally, her party group, the Deschutes County Republicans, regularly posts sexist, racist, and conspiracy-laden diatribes. If she cares about sexism and racism, why is Cheri a Republican? Why hasn't she called out local party officials for their bad behavior if she is such a champion for women's rights?
Pay attention to Cheri Helt’s motivations. On October 10th, Cheri told the Bend Bulletin that her top priority if re-elected to represent House District 54 is rebuilding the local economy by helping small businesses. Fact: Cheri is a business owner working for her own interests. No wonder she wants to be in Salem next session. Trying to make this race about gender-based violence is both manipulative and hypocritical.
It is also part of a larger pattern for Cheri Helt. She says one thing and does another. She says she cares for students, but she voted against the Student Success Act and against $14 million in additional funding for Bend-La Pine Schools. She says she cares about conservation and the environment, but she voted against the Clean Energy Jobs bill and opposed the cap-and-trade bill (the one the GOP walked out over). Fact: Cheri Helt votes with Republicans 80% of the time.
I urge you to take Cheri's claim that she's moderate and independent with a grain of salt and consider the kind of campaign she's running when you make your choice on the ballot for House District 54.
Thank you for taking the time to read this long piece. I am grateful for the opportunity to be part of this community and to work for real progressive change with all of you.
Dr. Amber J. Keyser