Democrat Phil Chang had the lead over his competitor, Phil Henderson, in the race for Deschutes County Commission with roughly 54% of the vote, according to initial results.
Chang, a natural resource and renewable energy specialist, appears to have unseated Henderson, the Republican incumbent, who got about 45% of the vote, according to initial returns.
Chang will likely become the first Democrat to serve on the commission since Henderson won in 2016, breaking up a completely GOP-dominated commission.
The 50-year-old Bend resident said he was excited about, though not celebrating yet, the early results.
He credits his preliminary success to his campaign bringing county government out of obscurity and communicating to voters about how the county can help with the quality of life issues, like sustainable growth and helping local businesses recover from COVID-19.
“I feel like my effort to raise awareness about the importance of county government was successful and people responded to that,” Chang said.
Chang used to lead a federal forest restoration program for the state Department of Forestry before cutting back last year to make more time to run for office. He is also a former staffer to U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore. He campaigned on improving mental health services, expanding COVID-19 testing and promoting smart growth that prevents sprawl into the rural county.
Henderson, 65, is a homebuilder and a lawyer. He was elected to the commission in 2016. Henderson campaigned on working to do more to support affordable housing and development throughout the county and prioritizing lower taxes.
Henderson did not immediately respond to request for comment Tuesday night.
The race for County Commission has put both candidates on the offense, with Henderson characterizing Chang as inexperienced and ruled by a narrow agenda, and Chang characterizing Henderson as someone who doesn’t take the pandemic seriously and doesn’t invest enough into county resources.