When it comes to the economy, Washington County is the envy of Oregon. It has the lowest unemployment rate in the Portland region; workers in the county earn the highest average wage in the region; and the average household income is also the TRIBUNE PHOTO CHASE ALLGOOD - Community activist Allen Amabisca announced he was running for Washington County Chair to change the commissions priorities last week.

Experts attribute much of this success to the presence of large companies such as Intel, SolarWorld and Genentech. Based in Hillsboro, they employ tens of thousands of people at higher-than-average wages.

But some Washington County residents believe the price of this success has been too high. Among other things, they complain that valuable farm and timber land has been sacrificed for the manufacturing plants and housing tracts where many of the workers live. And they question the property tax breaks used to help attract the companies under the state’s Strategic Investment Program.

The conflict is fueling three races for the Washington County Commission that could reshape the region. Incumbent Chairman Andy Duyck and Commissioner Bob Terry are being challenged by candidates backed by a coalition of community, environmental and social justice activists.

Duyck’s challenger is retired Intel employee and environmental activist Allen Amabisca. Terry’s challenger is former Democratic 1st District U.S. Rep. Elizabeth TRIBUNE PHOTO CHASE ALLGOOD - Incumbent Washington County Chair Andy Duyck says things are moving in the right direction.

The third commissioner up for re-election, Commissioner Greg Malinowski, is supported by the coalition. He is being challenged by Bob Zahrowski, an Oregon Institute of Technology professor and consultant.

By coincidence, the two sides were on vivid display last Thursday. Duyck attended the annual State of the City speech delivered by Hillsboro Mayor Jerry Willey at the newly renovated Hillsboro Main Library. It attracted a “Who’s Who” list of the county’s political players, including U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-1st District). After dining on wine and hors d’ourves, the crowd heard Willey boast about the benefits of his city’s employers.

A few miles away, the opposition gathered at the Helvetia Tavern in a rural part of the county. They included Furse, first-term state Rep. Ben Unger (D-Hillsboro), former Washington County Chairwoman Linda Peters, former 1000 Friends of Oregon director Robert Liberty and retired Pacific University professor Russ Dondero, an outspoken Intel critic. Many ate hamburgers and french fries before moving to the back room to hear Amabisca announce against Duyck. In contrast to Willey, Amabisca said he wanted to change the county’s direction.

“We need a commission that cares more about schools and sidewalks than developers,” Amabisca said.

The conflict spilled over into Willey’s speech. He departed from the prepared text to defend SIP, saying it had come “under attack.” He was referring to a bill Unger has in the 2014 Oregon Legislature to prevent property taxes for schools from being waived on qualifying economic development projects in the future, thereby reducing the incentives that counties can offer to attract them.

Before Amabisca’s announcement, Duyck’s campaign released a list of endorsements that showed he is clearly part of the political establishment. It listed most of the mayors in the county, including Willey, Forest Grove Mayor Peter Truax, Banks Mayor Pete Edison, Beaverton Mayor Denny Doyle, Sherwood Mayor Bill Middleton, Tigard Mayor John Cook, Tualatin Mayor Lou Ogden, North Plains Mayor David Hatcher, and Cornelius Mayor Jef Dalin.

Duyck is showing his fundraising prowess. He has raised over $75,000 for his re-election so far. Large contributions include $5,000 from Nike, $2,500 from the Hillsboro Chamber of Commerce, and $37,625 from Citizens for Good Government, a political action committee largely funded by construction-related companies.

In contrast, Amabisca supporters could be described as the anti-establishment. His campaign kickoff was organized by Washington County Action, a political action committee with ties to Washington County Citizens Action Network. The network — or WCCAN as it is known — is a coalition of community, environmental and social justice organizations. Among other activities, it has recently helped organize public opposition to the renewal of Intel’s state emission discharge permit.

Two of the WCCAN’s directors are on the PAC’s board of directors. They are Peters, the network’s chair, and Luis Nava, a Latino community organizer who serves as its vice chair. Amabisca is clearly lagging behind Duyck in fundraising. His campaign committee was just formed, and those attending his campaign launch party were among his first contributors.

Amabisca tried to turn Duyck’s fundraising edge against him, however. He called the contribution from Citizens for Good Government a reward for an $2.3 million county loan to build a new road into the North Bethany area in unincorporated Washington County.

The commission authorized the loan to jump-start residential development there that stalled during the recent economic downturn. It will be paid back by North Bethany property owners and developers.

Duyck denies there was anything inappropriate about the loan.

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