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Planning Commissioner to Challenge Conger for Bend Seat

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Less than a year after wresting Bend's House Seat from Judy Stiegler and the Democratic Party, Rep. Jason Conger has a challenger looking to take the freshman republican legislator's seat.

Late last week, former school board member and longtime Bend planning commission member Nathan Hovekamp announced that he intends to seek the democratic nomination next year. Hovekamp will first need to get through the May primary if he hopes to challenge Conger. While the local Democratic Party reportedly isn't planning to offer any pre-primary endorsements, Hovekamp is likely to have the support of the party and is the early frontrunner for the democratic nomination.

That could make for an interesting match-up in the fall and another test of the Oregon Democratic Party's willingness to fight (read open its wallet again) for the hotly contested Bend House seat, which has changed party hands in each of last two elections. The two most closely contested contests pitted former Bend Park Board member and timber industry lobbyist Chuck Burley against Judy Stiegler, the wife of former District Attorney Mike Dugan. Stiegler took the seat from Burley in 2008 following a campaign that drew statewide attention and set new campaign spending records on the east side of the Cascades with candidates raising in excess of $500,000. Last year, Conger won the seat back from Republicans after another epic fundraising and spending spree that saw the Bend attorney and businessman raise more than $440,000 well more than Stiegler's $280,000.

Hovekamp said he hopes next year's campaign will focus more on issues and dialogue than cash.

"That's huge amounts of money," said Hovekamp in regard to the previous fundraising totals. "Given the larger economic environment, it would be kind of nice if we could be reasonable on how much we raise and spend."

Hovekamp, who taught biology at Central Oregon Community College for more than a decade before leaving the school this past fall, said he has been contemplating a run at state office for some time. He said he hopes to focus his campaign on helping to stabilize the state budget without shifting an unfair burden onto working families, public employees and other groups that Hovekamp said had no role in creating the current fiscal mess.

Hovekamp has a master's degree in biology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and earned his doctorate in education from Oregon State in 2005. He has lived in Bend since 1997. He is married with two children. (EF)

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