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The many talents of south Columbia County

I enjoyed the story about Tricia Brown and her Alaskan-themed books (see “Local author’s latest depicts epic Iditarod,” Feb. 17). I hope you’ll do a story about another local author, Willie Vlautin. I met him at a library book club event. He has written four books, including “Lean on Pete” (I think it won two Oregon Book Awards), “Motel Life,” (recently released as a movie), “Northline” and, just recently, “The Free.”

His books are gritty but full of characters who do not lose hope, even amidst despairing life situations. He is also the front man for his band, Richmond Fontaine. He is a very talented young man who lives up Dutch Canyon.

All his books are at the library and there are interviews with him in the back, if you want background. The staff knows him as he is an active reader himself. He recently was on the Oregon Public Broadcasting show, Art Beat, talking about his writing and music. He also did an OPB reading during William Stafford’s 100th birthday special. The whole community should know about this talent in our midst.

Nancy Rocha


[Editor’s note: Thank you for the letter, Nancy. The Spotlight had earlier published a feature article on Willy Vlautin (“Taking hold of the reins,” April 2010). Admittedly, however, it has been a while, and he is certainly one more example of the many talented people who call south Columbia County home.]

Thank you from Habitat for Humanity

Thank you to all who came to celebrate this pivotal stage of the construction of the first of three Habitat for Humanity homes, located at Sykes Road in St. Helens on Saturday, March 8. A big thank you goes to attendees Sen. Betsy Johnson for her continuing support of Habitat for Humanity; City Councilor Susan Conn for representing the City of St. Helens; Michael Wagy of CalPortland; Steve Jensen of St. Helens Community Federal Credit Union; and other officials who attended.

We can’t thank enough our partner, Thrivent Financial, and their excellent support team of Eric McClung and Jason Susee. A big shout out to Columbia River Fire & Rescue Chief Jay Tappan and the team of CRF&R firefighters for their demonstration of community support by helping us raise the last two walls to complete the event and kick off our celebration.

Columbia County Habitat for Humanity Board President Boyd Ruby and our supportive board of directors also deserves recognition for their efforts. It takes a special construction project on-the-job overseer to make all aspects of building a home come together. In our case, Mike Stone of Stone Builders is that person. We would also like to thank Hardcore Construction, Oregon Association of Realtors, CANDO Electric, Lower Columbia Engineering, TFT Construction, NW Plumbing, the Columbia River PUD, KOHI Radio, The Chronicle, South County Spotlight, all of our great volunteers and a special thanks to volunteers Bob Bay, Bill Jauron, Don and Debbie Ritthaler for their dedicated volunteer hours beyond any expectations. Forgive me if I have overlooked anyone.

While this build is far from complete, and continued fundraising will be needed, the excitement generated by our supporters at this event will be even more evident at the next big celebration — handing the keys of the new home to our next Habitat homeowner, Mike McDougle, and his kids.

Bill Blank

Executive Director

Columbia County Habitat for Humanity

Legislature usurped the will of Oregonians

More than 70,000 Oregonians put down their signatures to require a vote on the November ballot to dispute the Legislature’s decision granting driver cards to those in Oregon illegally.

The Democratic legislative leaders have the audacity to pass a law specifically invalidating the ballot title as written by the state attorney general for the referendum from the citizens of Oregon.

The proposed wording for HB 4054 eliminates any reference to requiring proof of citizenship or legal residency. The intent is to divert the voter from what the driver card bill really does, to something that appears insignificant.

When lawmakers rewrite a ballot title to “spin” its wording to their favorable end, it distorts the measure’s purpose and attempts to manipulate the will of the voter.

I think it’s great Rep. Brad Witt, D-Clatskanie, consistently keeps us up to date on mostly his pet bills in the House, but when he votes in favor to grant special amenities to people illegally in our country and sees fit to stay silent on the subject, we need to ask him to explain his motivation for casting his votes in that manner.

After all, doesn’t he represent and work for us?

Dan Dorman


‘Lonely and scary

The words of state Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, while trying to explain why she chose again to poke a finger in the eye of Oregon Democrats. Her latest Republican vote was to make sure that the funds from a successful class action law suit that went unclaimed would be returned to the criminals and not be used help defray cost for the public defenders of low-income Oregonians. As Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D- Eugene, explained, he “likened the current system to police nabbing a thief who stole a dozen bicycles, then giving four back to the thief when they can only find eight owners.”

I don’t know why Johnson thinks it is scary. She votes against Democratic issues all the time and sides with Republicans quite often. She was the Republican swing vote against voting rights in Oregon, against environmental groups and labor unions over collective bargaining. Johnson is no friend of the Democratic Party. The Republican Party of the 16th District doesn’t even run a viable candidate against Betsy. They have no need to. She votes their way most of the time.

Johnson openly supports Republican candidates over Democrats. In the Columbia County commissioner races over the past five elections, she has supported Commissioner Tony Hyde, R-Vernonia, over four or five progressive Democrats. Hyde is an anti-worker, anti-labor, anti- prevailing wage and pro-right to work for less advocate.

He has given so many tax abatements to multi-million dollar corporations in Columbia County that we now have no money to run the Sherriff’s Office and the jail now faces closer.

In closing, all I can say is, with friends like Sen. Betsy Johnson, who needs enemies?

If I have a choice between a real Republican and a Democrat in name only, I’ll take the real Republican every time. At least you know what you are getting. With Johnson, the jury is still out as far as which Betsy will show up to vote.

Jamie L. Maygra

Deer Island

Voters need jail funding assurances before voting

The voters need some assurances of where where their tax dollars will be used. Not just for the jail in general, but for housing local Columbia County criminals only.

Also, we need assurances that the local prisoners and state and federal prisoners are housed separately.

I spent 15-plus years with the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office and jail. The first two years as a volunteer deputy, then as a full-time corrections deputy retiring in August 2009 with an advanced certification in corrections from the Oregon Department of Public Safety.

One of the things I observed while watching the mixed population of local and federal prisoners was that federal prisoners were making new recruits locally for expanding their business of drug trafficking and other related crimes. Thus, the commingling of prisoners made Columbia County a new outlet for gang crime with local operators.

In the past there was always a rather constant population of about 70 to 80 local prisoners. First, we need to reserve at least that number of beds for local prisoners. If it means sending U.S. Marshall’s Office or immigration prisoners back to other jails, so be it. This needs to be evaluated — counted — on a daily basis. Local inmates come first, last and always as to be housed in the Columbia County Jail.

On to the issue of where inmates are housed: When the jail opened, it was set up with 10 housing units. Two were for female inmates. Eight were for male inmates. One of those pods was reserved for maximum security male inmates and one other pod that could house maximum security male inmates, if needed. The other six pods were for general male population.

The problem comes with the fact that many federal inmates come with a much higher level of crime involvement than their criminal history shows. This is due to the fact they have yet to be charged with, or convicted of, these crimes, or their crimes took place in a foreign country. Often, these people are the recruiters who, in or out of jail, are expanding the field of operation in crime for their gang. Often this involves violent crime, hence bringing more drugs and violent crime to Columbia County.

Any levy we are to vote on must have the wording that those funds would be directed to house persons who are charged for criminal acts in Columbia County, and will keep local inmates separated from federal inmates. We do not need the jail to be a training center for new crime in our neighborhoods.

Dan Koch