The coronavirus pandemic, systemic racism and budget issues were among the topics taken up Tuesday during a forum featuring the three candidates running for Umatilla County Commissioner #3.
Those running ahead of the Nov. 3 election to replace retiring Commissioner Bill Elfering are Dan Dorran, HollyJo Beers and write-in candidate Pat Maier.
The event was hosted by the Hermiston Chamber of Commerce and KOHU/The Q and was moderated by Angela Pursel.
Right at the start, Maier acknowledged the odds against a write-in candidate “because you have to know how to spell my name,” before proceeding to slowly spell out her last name twice.
Beers said she has spent a lot of time and effort “working for this county all my life.” She has spent 25 years as a Little League volunteer and spent four weeks earlier this year helping collect and distribute supplies to residents following the flooding.
“I’m running because I think it’s important for people to have a voice,” she said.
Dorran touted his long experience in the business sector as well as the “time and treasure I’ve spent in this county.”
In addressing infrastructure needs in the county, Maier said county leadership has to do a better job to prevent future flooding. She said she is currently spearheading a program in Ukiah for Camas Creek.
“This will be a citizens’ group handling all the Camas Creek funding to enhance the stream,” she said.
Beers said the county failed to provide much-needed assistance to businesses impacted by the pandemic.
“We should do what we can to help them get back on their feet,” said Beers. She also said flood prevention was key, as well as improving county roads.
Dorran echoed Beers’ argument that roads were critical to the economic health of the county. He pointed out that traffic on Interstates 82 and 84 were as busy as any stretch of Interstate 5 from Seattle to San Diego and that many truckers turn onto county roads causing wear and tear.
“We can’t forget that ag is the driver of the Umatilla County economic base,” he said. “It’ll come down to setting priorities for all the cities in the county and what their needs are and how to address them.”
When it came to the county’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, Beers and Maier were critical of the current commissioners’ job performance.
“I wasn’t exactly happy with how the commissioners handled the mandates that came down from the governor, many of which I didn’t agree with,” said Beers. “I would have fought a little harder with the state (over mandates for business activity restrictions).”
Dorran said he wouldn’t criticize the county commissioners’ performance, but said there was a lack of overall consensus on how to handle the pandemic.
“There is no one solid line to follow,” he said, adding he would like to see the county put together a small economic recovery committee with a diverse membership.
Maier said she would not have followed the state guidelines “right down the list,” she said. She was also critical of a lack of outreach to the Hispanic community, particularly farm workers.
“We lacked leadership,” she said. “We needed multi-language messaging because we depend so much on ag workers who were failed” by a lack of outreach.
Each of the candidates were asked to name county budgets that should be shielded from future cuts.
Maier said she wouldn’t cut law enforcement or firefighting budgets. Beers cited the sheriff’s office and the Umatilla County Jail budget, while Dorran cited the sheriff’s office budget and Umatilla County Health – not just during the pandemic, but going forward.
In August, the Umatilla County Commissioners passed a resolution titled, “Stance Against Racism, Discrimination & Social Injustices in Umatilla County.” The candidates were asked if they supported the resolution and if they believe systemic racism exists in the county.
Dorran did not offer his opinion as to whether there was systemic racism nor whether he supported the resolution, but said an effort has to be made to listen to what people have to say.
Maier said she has seen evidence of systemic racism in the past, but not the way it is being described today. Instead, she said she has seen and been a victim of discrimination due to her gender. And when discrimination occurs, the victim has to stand up and speak out.
“You have to say what happened isn’t right,” she said.
Beers said she disagreed with the commissioners’ resolution because it did not explicitly focus on “equality for everyone” and that it goes against the Civil Rights Act.
Tuesday’s forum was livestreamed on YouTube.