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Clackamas County candidates getting in the game

Hunt rumored to be running against Lehan for BCC chair
by: Raymond Rendleman From left, County Commissioners Ann Lininger, Jim Bernard and Charlotte Lehan pick cards May 10 to determine the order of announcing their finalist preferences to fill the seat vacated by Lynn Peterson, who went to work for Gov. John Kitzhaber.

Back-to-school season is back-to-campaigning season in the year before a major election, and there's no exception to this rule for the three seats on the Board of County Commissioners that will be on the ballot next November.

After Commissioner Ann Lininger announced in June she wouldn't run again, that left an open field for former state Sen. Martha Schrader (D-Canby) in Position 3. John Swanson, chief of staff for Chuck Thomsen (R-Hood River), is considering challenging Schrader for the nonpartisan seat.

In Position 4, former Oregon City Commissioner Dan Holladay and former state Rep. Tootie Smith (R-Molalla) will challenge Commissioner Jamie Damon, whom the commission appointed in May. Chairwoman Charlotte Lehan had held Position 4 until March, when she was appointed to replace former Chairwoman Lynn Peterson, who left for a job in the governor's office.

Damon has received the endorsement of Lehan, who also hopes to retain her seat. State Rep. Dave Hunt (D-Gladstone) told this newspaper in late July that he was mulling over whether to challenge Lehan, but since that time, he has apparently made that decision definite and is waiting until Sept. 19 to formally make the announcement.

Lehan and several other political insiders who have spoken with this newspaper have heard that the former speaker of the Oregon House has already privately announced his BCC candidacy.

'He told me he was running last month and suggested that I run against Jamie Damon, which is a tactic I find offensive,' Lehan said. 'The political gamesmanship and hyper-partisan maneuvering practiced in Salem politics may be effective for legislators, but I have never found it to be well-tolerated at the local level where our job is working directly with a wide range of constituents and diverse communities.'

Hunt is traveling in China to promote trade with Oregon until next week, when he has said he will make an announcement. Hunt responded to an e-mailed request for comment, saying he still hasn't made a final decision, although he said he's ruled out running for Oregon labor commissioner and is deciding between the county chair position and running for re-election in House District 40.

'In the past month, I've talked with many local leaders and constituents and have received very positive feedback and strong encouragement to run for county chair. I now need to conclude the discussions with my wife and family before making a final decision,' Hunt said.

The county chair race is not the only venue for political wrangling in the first week of registration. Swanson, a Clackamas resident who lost in the 2010 primary to state Rep. Patrick Sheehan (R-Happy Valley), worried about partisanship in Salem extending to the county races.

'I've worked with so many different folks down in Salem that I don't really see party lines anymore,' Swanson said.

Schrader and her campaign manager, Stacey Dycus, declined to comment on Swanson's potential to run.

If he does run, Swanson said he would hope that issues such as transportation funding and sustainably managing natural resources would see bipartisan support. Swanson defended his ability as a longtime conservative activist to win the county commission race despite relatively little name recognition, citing a recent example.

'Paul Savas announced in March, and he was able to win,' he said.

Schrader said that her platform (which is similar to Swanson's) already has bipartisan support.

'Jobs are on everyone's mind, and I want to make it easier for our small businesses that want to create jobs by reducing unnecessary regulation and ensuring good customer service from our government,' she said.

Holladay and Smith echoed regulatory and transportation priorities. While looking to similar issues, Lehan gave $250 to kick off Damon's campaign fund last month.

'The two biggest challenges facing the county are interrelated: families are out of work, and our roads and bridges are badly in need of repair,' Damon said. 'In both regards, we are falling behind Multnomah and Washington counties. My plan would turn us into a regional player again, and allow us to compete for industry and jobs. Local business owners have asked us to make investments in our city streets and transportation system to make it easier for them to do business and hire more workers. To really make a difference, we have to remove barriers for small business, promote agriculture and encourage partnerships that spur job growth.'

Lehan said she doubted that Hunt could get up to speed as quickly as Damon on the issues specific to county governance.

'I understand that it must be difficult for him to continue after being removed from leadership by his own party,' Lehan said. 'I wish that he, like any elected official, would put aside political ambition and do what is best for his constituents. His potential to benefit Clackamas County as a senior legislator, especially on transportation, could be great. Instead he is attempting to step into the very different world of local politics where he has no practical experience at either the city or the county level.'

Hunt acknowledged that it will be a difficult choice whether to continue advocating at the state level for legislation like the Jobs and Transportation Act, which brought hundreds of millions of dollars to Clackamas County. But he maintains that he'd provide the strong leadership necessary for doing more with fewer resources at the county level.

'Our community needs leaders who will strengthen citizen involvement, jobs, infrastructure, human services, public safety, and livability - and not waste time on name-calling or other fruitless endeavors,' he said.