A crowd of nearly 50 people packed the conference room at the Outlaw Restaurant in Joseph last Wednesday to hear campaign statements and to ask questions of candidates for county commissioner, circuit court judge and county treasurer.
Candidates came prepared to address the sensitivity of the Joseph-area crowd, following months of controversy over Commissioner Todd Nash’s rush to push through a new transient lodging tax that affected the area.
Wallowa County Commissioner candidates
Commissioner candidates Diane Daggett, John Hillock and Dan Deboie all pledged open communication and respect for all economic sectors in the county if elected commissioner. Candidate Cliff Walters, the least experienced of the group, kept his comments neutral and stated that he was known for doing what he said he would do.
The complexity of the issues facing the county and the necessity of developing partnerships between public and private groups was key to candidates.
“I believe the underpinning of our rural character is our ag and forest lands and the economy they generate,” said Daggett. “Don’t misunderstand me, all of our economic sectors are important to the health of our community.”
Businessman John Hillock had already begun researching grant opportunities for the county.
“I’ve thought for years that Wallowa County was lacking somebody that was going out and was looking for grant opportunities or other opportunities,” he said. “My history shows I’ve brought — I said about a million dollars to the community in (energy) grants and incentive dollars, my son says more like $2 million. We’ve done our share of bringing money into the community ... I think I can bring that expertise to the county and get some of that done.”
Deboie, a former commissioner, reminded the crowd of the financial realities facing Wallowa County and the power of the community.
“Wallowa County people are generous, they know what they want, they know what they’re buying and as a commissioner it’s part of what it is to find out what the people want and go hard to get it,” he said.
The candidates also understood the tenuous nature of Wallowa County’s funding stream and the importance of working with legislators “higher up the chain” to secure financial support for counties with lots of publicly-owned lands.
“I’d like to see the county continue to fight and encourage our federal government to invest in communities that are public-land based,” said Daggett.
Deboie emphasized the importance of “keeping our forest receipts ... that feed the road department and the school, we’re going to work with our elected officials higher up the chain to make sure we don’t lose those. If we lose some of that stuff we’re going to be in deep trouble.”
County treasurer candidates
Not even Treasurer candidates Velda Bales, Carolyn Doherty and Ginger Goebel-Burns were free of sharp questions. One question quizzed the candidates on who they served — the people or county government — and another asked if they saw their position as a check on the powers of commissioners.
All said they served the people, often highlighting the portions of their work experience that showed both their depth in the community and their ability to serve the public.
Goebel-Burns pointed out that she has always worked for commissioners in her position with the road department. But as an elected official she said it would be a case of working with, not working for the commissioners, and following the laws that regulate the treasurer’s office.
As to the question of their being a “check on the powers of the commission,” all candidates rejected the notion that it was within their job description to keep the commissioners in check.
“I’m not going to say to the commissioners, now wait a minute, I don’t think you should be giving transient lodging tax money to Alpenfest,” said Goebel-Burns.
Doherty said that while the treasurer’s top priority was serving the people of the community, keeping commissioners “in check” was not the job of treasurers. “(Commissioners) know their positions, duties and ordinances,” she said.
Bales interpreted the question as one about the importance of working closely with all of the other officials, but agreed that the community was the treasurer’s boss.
“You have to keep that in mind and ... follow all of the regulations required through the treasurers office,” she said.
Circuit Court Judge
Both candidates for circuit court judge — Wes Williams and Mona K. Williams — have extensive experience. Both candidates felt their experience in family court is valuable for judgeship, as is their experience in both civil and criminal cases.
Former Wallowa County District Attorney Mona K. Williams is currently a Wallowa Circuit Court judge. She emphasized her dedication to fairness, victim’s rights, defendant’s rights, and protection of the people of Wallowa County. That experience put her in good stead as a judge, she said.
“Although judges don’t get to make decisions about what cases are brought, who gets charged ... I do have the obligation to follow the constitution ... and to do justice,” she said.
Wes Williams is an attorney with experience before both the Oregon Court of Appeals and the Oregon Supreme Court. He has represented victims of both criminal and civil crime and represented families and juveniles, arguing one case pro bono for six years all the way to the Oregon Supreme Court where his client prevailed.
His criminal defense experience is primarily in defending individuals squaring of against the government, banks and insurance firms, he said.
“My reason I’m running for judge is primarily because I believe we need a judge who will protect constitutional rights,” he said. “That has been the focus of my practice for 22 years. I also believe we need a judge that has a broad experience in the law, both in civil court and in criminal court.”
Wallowa County residents who missed the nearly three hour forum have another chance to learn about the candidates in depth by attending the candidate forum set for Wednesday, Oct. 10, 6 to 8:30 p.m. at Cloverleaf Hall in Enterprise. Candidates invited include candidates, for Oregon governor, U.S. House of Representative candidates, as well as local candidates for circuit court judge, county commissioner, county treasurer and Enterprise City Council.