>Zemke, founder of the Stop Cogentrix grass roots group, is the only challenger to incumbent Mike Ahern
March 20, 2002 — Add two more to the list of candidates vying for a county commissioner seat.
Mary Zemke, the medical transcriptionist known more for her opposition to Cogentrix than translating doctor-speak, has filed as a Republican to take on incumbent Mike Ahern for position No. 2 on the commission.
Madras machinist Steve Hart, who has run for the commission several times, also filed for office late last Tuesday, joining two other Republicans challenging for position No. 1.
Zemke, founder of Stop Cogentrix, a grass roots group devoted to stopping the North Carolina-based power company from constructing a 980-megawatt facility near Grizzly Mountain, said she has been encouraged by several people for months to run for office. Ahern, a Democrat, is the only incumbent in any local race being challenged by a political newcomer.
“I think the county needs a change,” Zemke said. “It needs a new voice and a new direction.”
However, Zemke said, that change doesn’t mean everything has to change.
“I do not want Jefferson County to be like Deschutes County,” Zemke said. “I think it’s good to preserve our heritage and I like the restrictive quality of the county. And it’s important to me that there’s somebody running who cares about agriculture.”
Hart, meanwhile, said he will run on a platform to restore constitutional government in the state of Oregon and the county.
“We no longer have a republican form of government in Oregon because we don’t have three branches,” Hart said. “I want the county to at least demand we have a three-branch government”
Hart has lived in Jefferson County for 54 years and graduated from Madras Union High School. He holds an associate’s degree in electronics.
He is the president of the Hart Machine Company.
Hart has never held a political office, although he notes that he once served as chairman of the Rural Madras Sanitation District.
“I think I can provide a little different insight in what’s going on and hopefully change a few things,” Hart said.
Cogentrix is not a big agenda item with Hart, who will face Lexus Johnson and Michael Goss in the May primary.
“I’m not against Cogentrix as such,” Hart said. “I think that probably we don’t have control over whether or not they come in as long as they complete their guidelines but I’m not for providing any special tax breaks or incentives like that. If they’re profitable they’re profitable.”
However, Cogentrix is a topic easily associated with Mary Zemke. But she insists she’s no single-issue candidate.
“Honestly, I don’t think Cogentrix is going to be around in January,” Zemke said. “It may be an issue in the primary campaign and maybe in November but I think those people are beginning to feel that people don’t want them here.”
Nevertheless, the topic is the single most identifiable difference between Zemke and Ahern, who sit on different sides of the issue.
The November election could be an indicator of where a majority of Jefferson County residents stand on the issue, but both candidates have said they don’t want to be framed around the Cogentrix debate alone.
Zemke said she thinks the economy will kill the Grizzly Power Project anyway. But if it was still an issue were she elected, Zemke said, “I would fight it any way I could.”
Zemke opposed the land use ordinances the current commission passed recently. She said she favors identifying areas to rezone and develop rather than allowing increased development on all the resource zones.
“I would like to see the ag people and developers reach consensus,” Zemke said.
Zemke grew up in Mesa, Ariz., a community she said used to be a small agricultural community with citrus orchards and dairies.
“I watched unbridled development destroy the air, water and quality of life in just 16 years,” Zemke said. “Jefferson County needs careful planning to avoid such a scenario here.”