Bend resident Craig Wilhelm served in the Army in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now he’s entering a new, quite different field of combat: politics. The 42-year-old announced Wednesday he’ll seek the Democratic nomination for Oregon House District 54.
Wilhelm, vice president of business development for Resource Recycling Technologies, is the first Democrat to file, but the second candidate to announce a run for the Bend House seat. It's being given up by Republican Jason Conger, who is in the GOP primary field running to take on U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.
Republican and orthopedic surgeon Knute Buehler made his campaign for the District 54 seat official at a kickoff event earlier this week.
As former chairman of the Deschutes Democrats, Wilhelm's party has a 2,000-voter edge in registration in District 54, 13,974-11,908 – but with more than 9,500 non-affiliated voters, there’s no guarantee the hotly contested seat will go either way, four years after Conger defeated incumbent Democrat Judy Stiegler.
Wilhelm served in Iraq in 2003-04 and Afghanistan in 2005, having lived in California previously. He said he’s making his first bid for public office from his “belief and sense of public service and duty.”
He said he “really did think long and hard” about whether to run, but added, “There’s too much at stake, in my opinion, in this district to sit this one out.”
Wilhelm cited his combat experience and added, “I understand small businesses and the economy that’s been struggling for quite some time.” As phone companies move to fiber optic lines, the Washington state-based firm he works for recovers and recycles the copper cable.
“I could have moved pretty much anywhere” after leaving the Army, Wilhelm said, but along with skiing and other recreation, Bend was where his family members and a co-founder of the company he works for lives.
He has launched a Website and a Facebook page here https://www.facebook.com/pages/Elect-Craig-Wilhelm/1443146962573973 , with a Website is in the works. Here’s the text of his announcement news release:
BEND – Craig Wilhelm today announced his candidacy for State Representative, House District 54, which includes the majority of Bend.
Wilhelm is running for HD 54 to create an economic climate that attracts and keeps a diverse portfolio of small businesses, encourages growth, develops and generates good-paying local jobs, and brings Bend citizens and families back to prosperity. Wilhelm, a Bend resident, is a decorated U.S. Army Combat Veteran, a business executive, and a part-owner of a small business.
“Like you, I chose to live in Bend because of its incredible, natural beauty, its close-knit community, and its impressive opportunities for prosperity. I want to be your next State Representative because we need bold leadership, candor, competence, and character to represent you and to ensure that our district has the best paying jobs, diverse employment opportunities, and a streamlined, healthy business climate. I’ve led soldiers in combat and know what it takes to lead through tough times and fight for solutions to our tough problems. You have my full commitment that I will serve with results that make a difference in our community’s success.”
A strong sense of patriotism drove Wilhelm to graduate from West Point, join the Army, and serve in a variety of leadership roles in Iraq, Afghanistan, and throughout the world. That same civic passion is driving his run for the state legislature.
Wilhelm has a Masters of Business Administration from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and is currently a Vice President of Business Development for a metal recycling and trading company. He also is part owner of a service-disabled, veteran-owned small business providing the same metal recycling services for the federal government.
“Political games and partisan bickering are not working for the people of Bend. Our unemployment rate is still well above the State and National average and proves that we have a long way to go to regain the jobs lost during the Great Recession. As someone who has helped build a successful company, I’ve seen the highs and lows within our business climate and understand what small business owners go through to survive in tough times and the challenges they face to keep their doors open and their workers employed. I want to go to Salem to help our small businesses thrive and continue to hire local employees, to rebuild long-term financial security for District 54 citizens and families, and ultimately to ensure Bend’s long-term vitality.”
Wilhelm is an active community member in Bend and a passionate advocate for veterans’ services. He is the Founder and President of the Windy25 Memorial Fund, raising money for our fallen military heroes and their families, and volunteers his time with the Wounded Warrior Project, the Bethlehem Inn, Snowball Express, and recently led the coordination of a cross-country charity relay race for wounded servicemen from the US and the UK.