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Clackamas County Board of Commissioners race features Democrat vs. two former Dems

Three candidates are vying for one seat on the three-member Board of County Commissioners-and, until recently, all three were Democrats.

Incumbent Larry Sowa recently changed party affiliation from Democrat to Republican. Lynn Peterson is challenging him as a Democrat; David Dodds, in the race as an independent, was also a Democrat in the past.

Here are profiles of the three candidates:

David Dodds

A West Linn High School graduate, Dodds said he has lived in that city for his entire life, except for school and occasional travel.

He said he was prompted to enter politics when a developer tried to build 69 townhomes on a property behind his house. He joined the fight against the development, and today that land is Robin Wood Park.

That led him to the Planning Commission and an involvement in government. 'I was not very happy with the way things were being run,' he said, citing 'the disproportionate influence the development community had on city policy and city finances.'

He ran for mayor in West Linn and failed, then tried again and won. He was re-elected to a second term, but then lost the last election, prompting him to take some time off.

It was during that time that he became involved in the county's controversial Clearwater sewage consolidation plan, which, he said, was a factor in the decision to run for the commission now.

'Clearwater is a major issue,' he said, 'but also, I think, a symptom of what I think is wrong with the county. It is a huge proposal-with deficient public outreach. The number of people who knew about it was ridiculously small.'

Q: What can the county do to deal with the continuing impact of Measure 37?

A: 'When I was a planning commissioner … I said I went by the code as it was written, not as I wished it to be written. Measure 37 is the law of the land, and I will follow the law … That said, I never supported it, and I think it is a badly crafted law.'

Q: How can the county address its infrastructure needs?

A: 'There is no easy answer … The way you [deal with a limited budget] is by being willing to go through your budget line-item by line-item… looking for efficiencies, looking for savings, and prioritizing.'

Q: The county has been told to expect huge growth in Damascus. How can the county handle that growth?

A: 'Try to make growth pay for as much as possible of its own impact… If you want more of something, subsidize it. If you want less, tax it. I'm not suggesting taxing development-but I think the majority of people don't want to subsidize it.'

Lynn Peterson

Peterson cites her own experience in highway design, as a construction and civil engineer, and, not surprisingly, names transportation issues as high on her priority list.

Peterson said that as a neighborhood chair, she discovered she enjoyed working with the city and solving transportation problems. She was on the Lake Oswego City Council, and said she's always taken a practical approach to issues.

'That's what I do,' she said. 'I don't come in with hardcore philosophies on the local issues-I come in with the assumption that I will listen and learn.'

She said she was driven to run now by an understanding of how much growth the county is likely to experience, and a desire to bring her skills to bear on the issue.

The county, she said, has to ask, 'What do we want to protect-what is so 'Oregonian' in Clackamas County that we can't let it go? If we don't know that, we don't know where we want to grow.'

Q: What can the county do to deal with the continuing impact of Measure 37?

A: 'One of the things the county hasn't done is start to look at the impact on neighbors… It has an impact on all of us, if we allow that development.

Q: How can the county address its infrastructure needs?

A: 'Because we haven't had a clear message on what our needs are… we have been ineffective at getting resources brought back to Clackamas County. The first thing we need to do is get organized-and set priorities-so we can effectively lobby.'

In addition, 'We tend to be ineffective at getting infrastructure funds… because we don't have a local match.'

Q: The county has been told to expect huge growth in Damascus. How can the county handle that growth?

A: 'Growth is going to happen… There are a lot of people that are going to be born in this county, and fall in love with it… and they'll want to come back.

'We need to be a complete community,' she said. 'There's a sense of completeness in an urban area that allows the full range of housing choices… and right now I don't think we do it.'

Larry Sowa

Sowa, the incumbent, recently switched from Democrat to Republican.

Sowa said he has worked as a lobbyist for conservation groups, and, later, as a state representative on the powerful Ways and Means committee, spending some 15 years in Salem.

He was elected in 1996 after friends talked him into running; he said he didn't think he was cut out for politics. Sowa noted that he doesn't like being before cameras, or speaking in public.

'I'm real concerned about the wise use of natural resources,' he said, although he noted he's 'not a preservationist.'

In 1992 term limits were passed, and in '97 the limit forced him out of the legislature; he turned to county government instead, saying he had identified a number of county issues he wanted to pursue. He said he wants to run again now because 'we started a lot of ground-breaking things in the county, and we need to finish those'-including the Complete Communities program.

Q: What can the county do to deal with the continuing impact of Measure 37?

A: 'We don't really know the impact of 37 at this point… The courts haven't ruled on the major policy issues in 37.

'Few can use it if they can't sell their 37 rights.'

Q: How can the county address its infrastructure needs?

A: 'One of the things we started since I got here was concurrency… You can't develop until the infrastructure is in place.

'The people that want to develop a property will help provide the infrastructure. 'SDCs,' he said, 'can cover every thing but schools; we have to continue to be innovative and work that out.'

Q: The county has been told to expect huge growth in Damascus. How can the county handle that growth?

A: 'Growth will happen whether we want it to or not. We're going to make sure the growth is orderly and doesn't spread throughout the landscape.

'The Damascus plan calls for orderly growth and infrastructure,' he said. 'That's what we need to do outside that area.'