Running the farm, running for office

Several candidates running for the Oregon Legislature must strike a balance between farm life and the campaign trail.
George Plaven

Capital Press

Published on November 1, 2018 9:27AM

Last changed on November 1, 2018 4:38PM

Shelly Boshart Davis, of Boshart Trucking and BOSSCO Trading, is running to replace Andy Olson in the Oregon House of Representatives for House District 15.

George Plaven/Capital Press

Shelly Boshart Davis, of Boshart Trucking and BOSSCO Trading, is running to replace Andy Olson in the Oregon House of Representatives for House District 15.

Sen. Chuck Thomsen, R-Hood River, is running for re-election to the Oregon Senate representing Senate District 26.

Courtesy of Chuck Thomsen

Sen. Chuck Thomsen, R-Hood River, is running for re-election to the Oregon Senate representing Senate District 26.

Rep. Rich Vial, R-Scholls, is running for re-election in the Oregon House of Representatives for House District 26.

Courtesy of Rich Vial

Rep. Rich Vial, R-Scholls, is running for re-election in the Oregon House of Representatives for House District 26.


A large 18-wheeler idled outside the main office at Boshart Trucking in Tangent, Ore., on a gray October morning as Shelly Boshart Davis recounted another successful grass seed harvest in the Mid-Willamette Valley.

Boshart Trucking contracts with more than 40 local farmers to bale and haul grass straw, with Davis, 38, in charge of managing field crews, inventory and other logistics. The job involves a lot of paperwork, especially during harvest in July and August.

With the season now in the rear-view mirror, Davis is focused in earnest on her next big challenge: campaigning for election to the Oregon House of Representatives on Nov. 6.

“Oh my goodness, you should see the calendar,” Davis said. “It’s everything from meetings for endorsements to letters, events, knocking on doors, phone banking, putting up signs, and just being out in the community.”

Davis, a Republican, is hoping to represent District 15, which covers portions of Linn and Benton counties, including the city of Albany. Incumbent Rep. Andy Olson, a Republican, is retiring after 14 years in the Legislature. Democrat Jerred Taylor and Independent Cynthia Hyatt are also running for the seat.

According to the Oregon Farm Bureau, fewer than a dozen Oregon legislators are directly involved in agriculture, though others may be retired, semi-retired or do some farming and ranching on the side. The Legislature consists of 30 senators and 60 representatives from across the state.

For Davis, the office would add to her already busy schedule. She and her business partner, Macey Wessels, a farmer in Scio, Ore., purchased Boshart Trucking over the summer from Davis’ parents, Stan and Lori Boshart, taking over the company founded by Stan and his brother, Gene Boshart, in 1983.

And that is just one arm of the family business. Davis is also vice president of international sales and marketing for BOSSCO Trading, marketing grass straw for animal feed to customers in Japan and South Korea.

Yet when Olson, the incumbent, asked Davis if she would run to be his successor, Davis said she felt the pull of politics.

“We have just been so engrossed in what has been happening at the Legislature,” Davis said. “Our business and our farm seem to be affected by everything they’ve done in the legislative sessions over the last four years.”

Davis pointed to increases in the state’s minimum wage and a new proposal to cap greenhouse gas emissions as policies that wind up hurting small farms and businesses. She said she wanted to give a voice to rural interests at the statehouse in Salem.

But how to balance the demands of campaigning, while simultaneously keeping up with the rigors of farm life?

“I feel like I’m kind of in a whirlwind right now,” Davis said.

Chuck Thomsen knows the feeling. Thomsen, a Republican state senator from Hood River, is running for re-election against Democratic challenger Chrissy Reitz. At the same time, he owns a 168-acre pear orchard in the heart of the Hood River Valley.

Thomsen said he campaigns five days a week, except during harvest, when he cut back to three days a week.

“Sometimes I get up at 2 a.m. and write thank-you notes, or I do my bookwork,” Thomsen said. “It’s just less sleep, and you do it for seven months.”

More than anything, Thomsen credits his longtime foreman, Alfredo Elisea, with giving him the flexibility to serve as a legislator.

“During the week, Alfredo runs the show,” Thomsen said. “He does the day-to-day operations.”

Rep. Rich Vial, R-Scholls, is another farmer running for re-election in House District 26. Vial defeated Dan Laschober in the Republican primary, and will face Democrat Ryan Spiker in the general election.

Vial, 64, and his family operate three farm businesses, including Vial Family Farm in Hillsboro, west of Portland. The farm grows roughly 30 tons of table grapes every year for Portland metro schools. Harvest begins in late August, when Vial organizes the picking crews and ensures the crop is packed correctly in 20-pound boxes.

Then, for five weeks, Vial handles all the school deliveries himself, starting his day at 4:30 a.m.

“I’m feeling the effects of that, and then coming home and changing my clothes and going into my law office for a few hours, and then going out and knocking on doors,” Vial said. “In my district, I do need to do real on-the-ground campaigning.”

Legislative Days in September was especially grueling, Vial said, adding committee meetings to the agenda.

“In all honesty, there are days when I think, ‘Man, how am I going to get this done?’” Vial said.

In all three cases, the candidates say their farm experience and upbringing has prepared them for long, exhausting days. Davis, who began driving a combine when she was 12, said she has never shied away from putting in the time.

“That was instilled in me from a very young age,” Davis said. “Whether I win or lose, or whether this becomes more than two years (in the Legislature), that won’t change me or my goals in life.”

Thomsen, a fourth-generation farmer, said the key to campaigning is to tap into that intrinsic work ethic.

“When you’re raised on a farm, you do what you have to do, when you have to do it, to get the job done,” he explained. “I’ve always said that whoever runs against me is not going to outwork me. They can’t, because I’m a farmer.”





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