With the sudden resignation of Wallowa County Commissioner Mike Hayward in January, commissioner position No. 1 is slated for the May 17 election. Businessman Dan DeBoie and ranchers Todd Nash and Steve Wolfe have filed for the position. Interim Commissioner John Lawrence is filling Hayward’s shoes until the new permanent member of the commission takes over in November. If any candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote in the May primary, the seat will go to them with no need for a November runoff.
All three candidates are slated to participate in a candidates forum April 28 at Cloverleaf Hall in Enterprise. In an effort to introduce the candidates ahead of the forum, The Chieftain asked each for a brief biography as well as answers to four questions:
1. What is the single most important issue facing Wallowa County, and how should we address it?
2. Why are you running for county commissioner?
3. How do you intend to create time in your schedule to meet the requirements of the position?
4. Why should people vote for you?
Candidate responses are listed in alphabetical order.
DeBoie is a lifelong Wallowa County resident other than a few short stints living in other states. The former county commissioner (2003-2010) now lives in Joseph. He is not married but has two sons, Jacob and Caleb. He currently earns his living leasing out his family’s properties for both agricultural and commercial purposes.
The economy is the single biggest issue facing the county according to DeBoie.
“Everyone says, ‘Wallowa County is a great place to live, but a tough way to make a living.’ It used to be that between the mills and working in the woods and the farms and even the Forest Service there were a lot of family wage jobs here.”
He noted that because of the current lack of such jobs, young families have moved elsewhere to seek employment.
DeBoie said he sees small business as being the best way to address the loss of natural resources jobs. He said that the presence of the several economic development agencies within the county hold the keys to its future.
“It’s a matter of getting the right business owner or entrepreneur. The government can rightfully help with some of that stuff, but it can’t do it for them.”
DeBoie is running because as a former commissioner he already knows he enjoys the work.
“Some of the issues have changed, but the majority of the work is still administrative.”
And he sees the need for a strong county voice in Salem.
“They have a big effect on what happens here in the county. ... we have to take our opinion to them.”
He said his familiarity with the job as well as his relatively low maintenance business endeavors will give him plenty of time to fulfill commissioner duties.
DeBoie said his commissioner experience as well as his love for the county is why he deserves a vote.
“I have a heart for Wallowa County. I want to see it thrive. ... Wallowa County has its own identity, and I just want to see that continue.”
Nash and his family moved to the Wallowa Valley in 1967. He is a rancher as well as manager of Marr Flat Cattle Co. Nash has a wife, Angie, as well as four children, Josh, Rebekah, James and Adele.
According to Nash, the biggest issue facing the county is money, or lack thereof. Nash came to that conclusion after consultation with the county’s commissioners as well as department heads.
“This county is 62 percent owned by the federal government, and we need to capture some of that. We’re not able to take property taxes from it. It’s a wonderful thing in some ways to have all this federal ground to access and hunt and fish with the wilderness area there to romp in, but the downfall is that we can’t capture a lot of money from it.”
He added that those issues along with lower timber revenue receipts have left the county in a financial bind.
“I’d like to see a minimum cut established on our national forests. If we got to a place with a reasonable minimum cut, an entrepreneur may be able to come in and set up a sawmill with jobs. As it is, it’s dismal.”
Nash is running for the post because he’s thought for several years that it’s something he’d be interested in doing. It also helped that the local Republican Committee asked him to consider running.
“That was my first real consideration, and I talked to my family and asked what they thought. And that’s when I made the decision.”
While the amount of cattle Nash manages may seem a detriment to having time to fulfill commissioner duties, he said a recent health issue (from which he’s recovered) taught him he has several people capable of running the ranch.
“I can hire those guys and allow them to have a greater stake in what they’re doing while I’m working as a commissioner.”
As far as why he deserves a vote, Nash said he’s uncomfortable saying he’s better than anyone else.
“I’ll work hard and try to represent Wallowa County well. I think people know me from the wolf issue and a number of other things. I just hope they know me well enough to vote for me or not. Either way, I’m content.”
Wolfe is a fifth-generation Wallowa County resident and a retired rancher who lives between Lostine and Wallowa. He is a graduate of Enterprise High School, and after graduating from Oregon State University with an animal science degree he returned to the family ranch. He has made his living from the ranch ever since.
No longer married, Wolfe has three children: His son, Woody and two daughters, Carlyn and Deve.
Jobs are the critical issue for the county according to Wolfe and he said county income levels need to rise but he isn’t sure what commissioners can do to directly change that.
“We also have resource issues and wolf issues and as commissioner we’ve got to work on every issue we can to help the people of Wallowa County in any way we can.”
Wolfe is running for commissioner because the county has been so good to his family over the generations.
“They’ve given us a lot of friendships and joys over the years.”
He added that he had always planned to volunteer and give back to the community as much as he could after retiring. His volunteer work includes the Eagle Cap Shooters Association as well as a membership on the county’s budget committee. Upon learning of Hayward’s resignation, Wolfe thought, “This would be a good time to see if people think I’m qualified.”
He added that as he is retired, he has ample time to devote to the position.
When asked why people should vote for him, Wolfe cited his family’s connection to the county as well as his history of working well with people and organizations.
“I’ve had many positions of leadership over the years through the Cattlemen’s Association and things like that, and people have been willing to follow my lead because I’ve set a good example. People know me and what I’m capable of.”