Find your pencils, it's decision time
- Tony Ahern
- Madras Pioneer - News
> All right. Find that No. 2 pencil, pull that ballot out from under the Eddie Bauer catalog. Let's talk about those local races.
The race for County Commissioner Position No. 1 pits two longtime residents: incumbent Democrat Walt Ponsford and Republican John Hatfield.
Ponsford rode into office in 2003 with the strong backing of the anti-Cogentrix movement, and a campaign focused on dominating the Crooked River Ranch precinct, which accounts for about a quarter of the county's voters. He and Mary Zemke ran a joint campaign, under the management of Crooked River Ranch resident Vern Bowers, and each received about 75 percent of the vote at the Ranch. They rode that Ranch mandate to slim wins over Mike Goss and Mike Ahern.
After the impressive political victory, governing proved more difficult. Infighting hampered the capacity of this commission to achieve, though blame for that can't rightly be put on Ponsford's lap.
Ponsford's shining moment on the commission has occurred during these past few months as he's stood firm against Measure 37 interests and their recall attempt. His campaign for re-election could only be helped by his huge victory in that recall vote earlier this month. He's a staunch advocate of farmland protection, and maintains that he needs to stay on the commission to represent that segment of the county.
Ponsford entered office with wild ideas of countywide health insurance for residents and a toll booth near the Cove to tax visitors. He's an idea guy, so to speak, whether those ideas are bad or good. No one can rightfully say that Ponsford is not a kind, well-meaning person. The question voters must ask is if he's done enough to earn a second term.
Ponsford's opponent, John Hatfield, is not shouting goals and ideals in his quest to become a commissioner. He is running a relatively subdued campaign. Hatfield does offer a long history of quiet public service, through decades-long involvement with the chamber and as a hospital board member.
Hatfield won't be spouting any grand, revolutionary ideas. He's more pragmatic. To me, he's similar to the men who historically served as commissioner -- Republican, family ties to the homestead era, and generally not boat-rockers. Proponents would praise his low-key, thoughtful style, while opponents might question his passion to serve and capacity as a visionary.
The county, like the nation itself, seems to want change. I think Hatfield has the slight edge. The larger number of Republicans in the county, about 1,000 strong, will be tough for Ponsford to overcome.
Then there's position No. 2. I have a brother in that race -- Mike Ahern, looking to win the seat he lost to Zemke in 2002 -- so feel free to view my takes on position 2 through my obvious prejudice. After the bitter mud bath of the 2002 race, I suggested he not run, but his affinity for public service is similar to mine for Doritos, salsa and ESPN.
The others seeking the No. 2 position are two latecomers to the contest -- Donna Tollefson and Bill Atherton.
Tollefson joined the race in August, as a fill-in for Darrell Agee, the Republican who won the primary but decided not the run. The party picked Tollefson, the administrative secretary for the commission, over Zemke, who reportedly made an emphatic plea to be selected. On the campaign stump, Tollefson doesn't attempt to make a big splash, but instead presents the quiet, kind person I expect she is. She has no burning issues, though she does regularly note that she is the only woman running for the commission, and that a woman on the court creates a balance of sorts.
Atherton is an Independent candidate who, like Tollefson, joined the race in August. But unlike Tollefson, Atherton does have an issue. He is very passionate about land use and controlling the spread of development and maintaining farm land. He is knowledgeable and well versed in the field and can quote studies right and left to back up his viewpoints, which include the notion that development is not an economic plus for a community, but rather something that must be subsidized. Farm protection advocates and anti-growth interests like what he says.
Ahern doesn't focus on one issue. He spent four years as commissioner (from '99 through 2002) and knows that the job primarily entails managing the budget and seeing that public service is provided. He says his biggest goal would be to work toward improving the overall economy in the county, helping to bring more and better jobs to the area.
Ahern was a good commissioner the first time, and can bring more experience to the job this time around, and will hit the ground running. His status as a real estate agent, which his opponents seize on, may lead to a few votes which he will have to conflict out of, but it doesn't seem to have derailed Bill Bellamy's capacity as a commissioner.
I look for him to regain his seat, though the returns from the Ranch will be interesting to watch.
Change is something the incumbent mayor of Madras hopes to avoid.
Frank Morton became mayor this past spring after Rick Allen resigned. Under Allen the city was incredibly active, with the formation of the Urban Renewal District and the land agreement with the Yarrow developers two of the highlights.
Morton took the reigns and -- with the help of the steady stewardship of administrator Mike Morgan -- the wagon has continued down the council's set path of progress.
I am a proponent of active government, and although I don't agree with every move the city has made, I generally applaud their achievement and goals. I can provide no strong reason why Morton shouldn't be retained as mayor. I think if one is happy with the direction the city has been going, they should keep Morton mayor.
But not everyone is content with the way the city has been operating.
Kevin O'Meara was a pain in the side of the city for years, and now he's running for mayor, which doesn't sit well with a lot of folks. I haven't caught half of the public forums the candidates have spoken at, but O'Meara provided my favorite comment when he said (and my paraphrasing is butchering his great delivery) that city officials are looking east at the almighty Yarrow development while they're standing on unpaved roads in west Madras. To an extent, that analogy is very true.
With his past litigation history with the city, it's hard not to question O'Meara's motivation to want to be mayor. But I know he's smart, and dedicated to his family and church.
I certainly respect the energy, intelligence and vision of Jason Hale. Hale is the type of individual this town needs to hold on to. If he comes up short this time -- which he may very well not -- he should be convinced to get involved elsewhere, or run again in two years. He's engaging, has a good head for business, and is a good example that you don't have to wait until you have gray hair to consider public service.
I have no great feel for how this race will end up, though I'm more intrigued by it than anything else on our local ballots. My hunch is that Hale and O'Meara will hurt each other by splitting some of the vote of those who want change, which will help Morton.
Then there's the sheriff's race, where change is a substantial longshot. There is no public servant that is more loved in Jefferson County than Sheriff Jack Jones, and conversely, maybe none the public would more like to see replaced. Certainly Jones has withstood controversy and scandal, within his family and department, and done so in a very graceful manner. People called Ronald Reagan the "Teflon President" as nothing would stick to him. Maybe Sheriff Jones has that same quality. Watching local candidates try to win support, there is no better natural politician. His passion for the job is evident.
His opponent, John Barrett, apparently could have his credentials to be a police officer in Oregon removed. His problems weren't selfish or criminal but mistakes in the field and not following through on paper work. Barrett is responding to the effort to remove his certification and is asking for a hearing.
Beating Jones would have taken a perfect situation and good luck. Instead, Barrett was dealt bad luck with the certification situation.
But when it comes down to it, what I think, or what any newspaper editorial board tries to convince you of, doesn't matter. It's what we all think that matters. We're all in this together. So find that pencil, fill out your ballot, and let the chips fall.