Candidate wants to bring innovative thinking to Salem
Darcy Long-Curtiss of The Dalles has wanted to serve in a state office for some time, so she decided to become a candidate when Rep. John Huffman stepped down last fall from his District 59 seat.
“It was a little sooner than I expected, but I have been getting the experience I need, and I’m ready,” she said.
Long-Curtiss, 47, a Democrat, is facing off with Republican Daniel Bonham, 40, a small business owner who also resides in the Dalles.
He was appointed by GOP leaders in November to replace Huffman, who left his elected seat to take on duties as state director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development.
District 59 is home to about 63,000 residents and encompasses western Wasco, Wheeler, Jefferson and northern Deschutes counties.
“I’m not running against Daniel; I just think that I have a lot more political experience and I would like to put that to use for the citizens of the district,” said Long-Curtiss.
She serves on The Dalles City Council and has faced strong criticism in recent months for challenging the actions of Mayor Steve Lawrence and other elected and appointed officials.
Despite being recently threatened with a reprimand for speaking publicly about what she viewed as wrongdoing, Long-Curtiss defends her constitutional right of free speech.
“That’s politics,” she said about the negativity she faced. “I tried to stay professional and have decorum, which is the same way I want to conduct myself when representing District 59.”
She is unafraid to stand alone on her convictions, said Long-Curtiss.
For example, she cast the sole “no” vote earlier this year against the Columbia Gateway Urban Renewal Agency entering into negotiations with Tokola Development for an agreement to convert the former Tony’s building into upper floor apartments and lower retail space.
Long-Curtiss said she voted against the plan because urban renewal was giving away a huge amount of tax dollars and prime downtown real estate (building sold for $10) while voting against another big project that required much less public investment and would put money immediately back into the economy.
In addition, she felt Tokola’s apartments would be priced too high to meet the affordable housing demands of the city. And the city would be giving away one of it’s largest parking lots to accommodate tenants.
“The project is cash flow negative, except for any new spending in town, and the handful of low wage jobs that will be created,” said Long-Curtiss after the 7-1 vote was taken.
“Tokola’s rents will be used to pay off their out-of-town debt and will not be circulating in our community. Property tax income will be deferred for years.”
She is a 1989 graduate of The Dalles High School and studied political science and international studies at Willamette University, which included a semester abroad in Japan.
She’s an independent financial advisor and owner of Empower Financial in The Dalles and Canyon City, and has been involved in a variety of community organizations.
“I have a long history of trying to improve the lives of people around me,” said Long-Curtiss.
Currently, she’s on the board of The Arc of the Mid-Columbia, which serves individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the region. She also volunteers with Home Fires Burning, a group that supports female veterans and military families.
She and her husband, Daniel Curtiss, have two sons who are now grown, ages 18 and 21, which she said opened up time for her to pursue her goal of becoming a legislator.
She sees her greatest strength as the ability to look at tough problems and find innovative ways get them resolved.
“I enjoy being the person who can think out of the box and get things done,” she said.
For example, the city council was debating in November whether homeless people accused of one of 24 crimes be banned for 90 days from designated downtown areas.
Instead of taking punitive measures, Long-Curtiss wanted city officials to look for solutions to help the homeless while discouraging negative behavior.
“I care about people in these vulnerable population groups as human beings and not just that they are difficult to deal with,” she said. “
Toward that end, she met with residents Judy Merrill and Widge Johnson to learn about their support for specially designed portable restrooms that would solve one of the homeless problems: urination and defecation in public places.
Long-Curtiss encouraged Merrill and Johnson to present information to the council about The Portland Loos; simple, sturdy, flush toilet kiosks located on sidewalks in public places.
The cost for a basic model is $90,000 and they are built to be cleaned easily and prevent homeless people from sheltering in them.
“I suggested places they could look for grant funding and that they work with The Dalles Main Street on the project,” said Long-Curtiss. “I like that because I think our community is self-reliant. This is the way we can have the resources we need to do it ourselves.”
She believes that kind of creative thinking is needed at the state level to find solutions to a variety of budgetary and policy challenges.
One of the things she is most passionate about is changing Oregon’s “broken” mental health service delivery system. Too many people are falling through the cracks because there are not enough resources to help them, which Long-Curtiss said is “completely unacceptable.”
“The Legislature needs to do something about this,” she said.
In the immediate, she said there is a need for more beds to provide inpatient mental health treatment and more funding for outpatient services.
“We are not prioritizing right,” said Long-Curtiss. “It’s really tough if you have someone you need to get help for.”
Due to a dearth of services, she said people with mental health issues frequently land in jails and hospitals, which is costly for taxpayers and does not, ultimately, provide stability.
It’s a matter of making funding for mental health more of a priority when budget decisions are being made, said Long-Curtiss.
She said schools need more resources to deal with students who are in crisis, such as struggling with a mental disorder or homelessness.
“We want to start them on the path of being a contributing member of society,” she said.
Being part of the majority party, if elected, gives her an advantage to move into leadership positions, said Long-Curtiss.
“I’ve been building relationships with elected officials and other influential people all over the state and at the federal level, so I am ready to get to work,” she said.
She said representing the will of the people in District 59 trumps party politics, and she is ready to stand up for what rural communities need, even if that means opposing her Democrat peers from large urban centers.
“I’m not afraid to deliver a message that people might not want to hear, but I can also build consensus,” said Long-Curtiss. “I want to be responsive to the people of this district because I am literally running to be their representative.”
During her travels around the district, she has heard from local government leaders about the need for infrastructure improvements, such as expansion of wide bandwidth data transmission capabilities, that will aid in economic development.
“It’s such an issue that a lot of kids are leaving these areas and not coming back,” said Long-Curtiss. “We need to help rural communities prosper by creating more job opportunities.”
Helping government leaders from large metropolitan areas understand the very different needs of outlying areas is a huge part of being the district’s representative, she said.
“I care about this district and I really look forward to bringing its message to Salem,” Long-Curtiss said.