All six candidates for Josephine County Commissioner were in agreement that residents need more access to public lands, we need to have high-paying jobs here so our children don’t have to leave the area, Commissioners need to communicate better with those they represent, we need to bridge the urban/rural divide in the county, we need to find better funding for law enforcement, and problems arising from the rapid growth of the marijuana industry are solvable. The difference between them was in the details. The forum, sponsored by the Josephine County Democrats, was held Tuesday evening, May 8, at their meeting place on E Street in Grants Pass. Sheri Morin was moderator.
Mayana Kingery claimed her years of community service gives her the ability to bring people together and said ideas such as creating a public bank to fund county services, and loosening restrictions on alternative housing should be explored. Saying she’s an Oregonian “through and through” she has lots of creative ideas for running the county, noted some specific problems “like leaving the lights on all night” at marijuana grows that could be addressed with existing ordinances, and referred people to her website for more information about what she stood for.
Ron Smith, a businessman who claims he’s a fourth generation Josephine County resident, also listed community service as his strength, and said he is the “property rights” candidate. He wants to lower taxes, and says Josephine County would be rich if we could use its “tremendous resources.” He said Josephine County has “too many trees” which burn up or get eaten by beetles so they should, instead, be used to improve the economy and provide taxes that will pay for services.
Peter Gendron vowed to provide full representation on the Commission for rural area residents, and can use his experience serving on state-level committees to help solve problems, especially those surrounding the cultivation of marijuana in the county. His priorities, if elected are: 1 – take care of cannabis issues, which he says have been blown way out of proportion, 2 – work with the “bureaucracies” of the state for the benefit of Josephine County, and 3 – to establish a solid relationship with his constituents. Gendron said the current Commission has allowed cannabis issues to explode into a county-wide controversy when it is actually only a few people causing problems for a few neighbors, and those problems can be brought under control by enforcing existing laws. The current Commissioners, he said, have worked up the marijuana fray by pitting people against each other, in the same way they seem to create urban/rural rivalries.
Darin Fowler, owner of an electrical contracting company and currently the Mayor of Grants Pass, said his experience gives him a good understanding of “how we got here and where we’re headed.” He grew up in Josephine County, Fowler said, and has been dismayed to see people he grew up with, and children who grew up with his children, have to leave the area to find good jobs. He said since the logging industry left Josephine County the city has made an effort to find alternatives by encouraging growth in the arts, wine and craft beer enterprises, and tourism. Regarding marijuana, Fowler says it is providing jobs, but “we’re now at the next era’s “tipping point” and it will take proven leadership to get problems related to the industry ironed out.
Kenneth Hannum, a contractor who has also been on the Grants Pass City Council, emphasized that he was a county resident until he and his wife “downsized” and moved to town after their children grew up. He said being a Commissioner is a complicated job and, with his experience, he’ll be prepared to “hit the ground running.” The county is facing multiple problems, he said, and the marijuana issue is just one of those. He said he doesn’t think people in the county can be taxed anymore and Commissioners will have to “think outside the box” to come up with ways to fund law enforcement and other services. To help people find good paying jobs locally, he said we need more technical training and “night schools.”
James Rafferty announced that “I’m your Constitutional candidate” then went on to praise the flag in the room as being a “Constitutional flag” because it had a silver knob on the flag stand and no gold fringe. He said he wondered how much money was being spent on this election that usually only gets about 50 percent turnout. Rafferty said he supports a “justice of the peace” court system with four separate court jurisdictions in the county, and said the Commissioners need to improve citizen participation by opening up their meetings to more public comment and allowing individuals more time. Rafferty later made a point of informing those present that we don’t live in a Democracy. “We are not and never have been a Democracy,” he said. “We are a Republic.” He says the Constitution doesn’t say Democracy anywhere and defined Democracy as “mob rule.”
Questions from the audience of about 40 people were about Merlin sidewalk concerns, the unfairness of having Grants Pass residents vote on issues affecting only the county, the use of the term “take our lands back” when O&C Lands (Oregon & California Railroad Revested Lands) were never actually Josephine County’s in the first place, and the effort to privatize public health in the county.
Fowler commented that he wanted to squelch the rumor that Grants Pass wants improvements in Merlin because it has its eye on annexation. “That was never discussed. They can incorporate but annexation would be too expensive for the city to do.” He also reminded people that Grants Pass residents live in the county too.
The final question, “what are you going to do about the real divide between rural and urban communities and how do you avoid pitting people against each other” summed up the evening.
Kingery – “We need to sit down at the table together.”
Smith – “Make sure property rights are respected.”
Gendron – “We need to understand and implement existing law.”
Fowler – “We need experienced leadership.”
Hannum – “I want to be the voice of the people.”
Rafferty – “I’m the Constitution candidate.”
After the forum those attending were urged to “mingle” with the candidates and talk to them more in depth about their concerns. The chatter indicated some were impressed by Peter Gendron’s knowledge and straight answers, but thought all the candidates did a good job presenting themselves. While Darin Fowler was praised for his experience, some voters residing outside Grants Pass said they really didn’t want another city council person on the Commission that already has two from that board. Donald Myrick, Jr., also on the ballot, wasn’t at the forum. Tripp Androy has since dropped out as a candidate.