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Candidates trade barbs at Rainier forum

by: Rick Swart, 
Joe Corsiglia (left) and Earl Fisher (right), candidates for Columbia County Commission Position #1, squared off in a public forum last week in Rainier.

Columbia County voters got their first face-to-face look at most of the candidates for county commissioner whose names will appear on Oregon's May 20 ballot.

More than 100 interested citizens crammed into Rainier's 'big green building' Thursday to hear stump speeches by four candidates for county commissioner.

Billed by some on the street as a 'debate,' sponsored by the Rainier Chamber of Commerce, the event was really more of a two-hour commercial for small-town politicians, as members of the audience were not allowed to ask questions, nor were candidates permitted to grill each other.

Still, some of the candidates could not resist the urge to get in a dig or two.

Pat Zimmerman, a Democratic candidate for county commissioner, for example, drew a heated response from incumbent Tony Hyde when she promised to stick close to home to conduct county business.

'I won't be flying to D.C. to lobby for who knows what or be in Salem every day,' said Zimmerman, in a dig at Hyde, who serves on numerous statewide committees and as recently as last month traveled to Washington, D.C., to lobby for flood relief dollars for people in his hometown of Vernonia.

'I will not promise to stay out of Salem. I will not promise to not go to Washington, D.C.,' Hyde shot back during his 10-minute speech. 'I think that is an inherent part of my job representing the citizens of this county. It's our job to influence any kind of safety and federal issues that affect us.'

In perhaps the most heated contest in the county, Earl Fisher, who is challenging Joe Corsiglia for Position 1 on the county commission, threw a few innuendos in his opponent's direction.

'You have to understand all those people come to you with a different point of view than you might have, and you have to respect where they're coming from,' Fisher said in an apparent attempt to capitalize on comments in Web logs or 'blogs' that have accused Corsiglia of bullying those with whom he disagrees and of showing up late for work and not getting much done. 'I also learned that you had to walk your talk,' Fisher dug. 'If I wanted my staff to be at work on time, I had to be to work on time. If I wanted my community to step up and volunteer, I had to be in the community volunteering.'

Corsiglia, who was the first of six candidates for commissioner to speak, talked about the importance of a good transportation system and its role in promoting commercial and industrial growth, which he said are necessary to offset the cost of residential growth.

Corsiglia spent about half of his time talking about the importance of communication, saying he spends a considerable amount of time out in the field talking to individuals and seeking out problems that exist in the county.

'Communication is always key with me,' said Corsiglia. 'I think that the more the public understands what's taking place with government, why things are the way that they are, the more relationships you have with your community and the people who own government, the easier it is for everyone involved. It starts with me having my name and number in the phone book … I always return your call if you give me a buzz.'

Corsiglia did not address questions about alleged misuse of a county-owned computer that have dogged him over the past several weeks since the machine was seized by the county sheriff's office following a public records request filed by Scappoose attorney Michael Sheehan.

Two Republicans who are also seeking county commission seat No. 1 made appearances at the forum. Glenn Dorschler, who was mayor of Scappoose for 10 years, said his greatest attributes are 'vision' and 'a servant's heart.' He listed the Scappoose airport as the county's greatest economic opportunity, citing developments that have already taken place at the airport and its access to highway, rail and water as assets the county should promote. Warren Nakkela, a farmer from Clatskanie who has been active in the Soil and Water Conservation District and other organizations, portrayed himself as a realist with a common-sense approach to local government.