Employment attorney Christina Stephenson and former state lawmaker Cheri Helt will likely face off this November for the chance to lead Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries.
As of Tuesday evening, Stephenson snagged just under 50% of the vote — the threshold she needed to pass in order to win the race outright. Helt received just under 20% of the vote. Final results are not yet clear as ballots will likely be counted for the next few days.
Stephenson is a civil rights and employment attorney who campaigned in part on the basis of knowing how BOLI works. Although she has not held an elected office, she’s received support from the last five labor commissioners. Stephenson also has a lot of experience doing the type of work BOLI is focused on — working with workers and employers to enforce civil rights.
“I am really excited to do this job. I’m a civil rights attorney, a small business owner — this is a bureau that I’ve been working with for over a decade,” Stephenson told OPB Tuesday night.
Unlike Stephenson, Helt does have experience in elected office, serving as a Republican state representative in Bend for two years. She’s also a business owner; she co-owns a Bend restaurant with her husband.
The Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries is a civil rights watchdog that enforces anti-discrimination laws in housing and workplaces across the state. It also trains employers on laws, like civil rights protections for workers.
BOLI has a budget of more than $30 million. It will also oversee part of Future Ready Oregon, a $200 million package approved by the Oregon Legislature focused on education and workforce development. Of programs approved in that legislative package, BOLI’s Apprenticeship and Training Division is in charge of awarding nearly $20 million in grants to support registered apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs.
If they do enter a runoff, either Stephenson or Helt will replace Val Hoyle, who was elected as BOLI Commissioner in 2018. Hoyle announced she was leaving the position to run for Oregon’s 4th Congressional District — a U.S. House seat vacancy created by the retirement of fellow Democrat, Rep. Peter DeFazio. Hoyle appears to be winning that race as of Tuesday night.