It was fright-night for progressives at Liberty Watch’s candidate’s forum Sept 13. About 70 or 80 people seated in the Home Arts building at the Josephine County Fairgrounds reacted with amens and muffled cheers as the candidates for sheriff and commissioner told how they support Measure 105 calling for the repeal of Oregon’s 30-year-old Sanctuary Statute, how anyone coming to the county to take people’s guns would be met by a “wall of sheriff’s deputies,” how cutting down trees and opening up mining on public lands will restore the county’s budget, and how Pacific Power is trying to invade people’s privacy, fry their brains, catch fire and raise their power bills with Smart Meters.
If you ask someone in a Liberty Watch t-shirt what their organization is they’ll tell you it’s a 501c3 non-profit just doing projects to help people and finding wheelchairs for the needy elderly and children. However, the Rural Organizing Project pegs this as a right-wing activist group cultivating good relations with elected officials in order to promote their pro-gun and no-new-taxes stands, and trying to win over the public with community service.
In front of this group, candidates tried to out-right each other with fealty to the U.S. Constitution, to guns, property rights, distrust of immigrants, the government, rural vs city resentments, distain for taxes, and conspiracy theories about Smart Meters. They also competed for who was the longest Josephine County resident and who understands the county’s outback better.
The meeting was moderated by a man in a black suit who said he was from radio station 99.3 which translates to KMED, a favorite of those who like an all-day right-wing talk format. He asked such provocative questions as “what will you do about night patrols using current resources, are you a Constitutional sheriff, what would you do if “they” came after firearms in Josephine County, what are you going to do about the ‘let it burn’ attitude of forest officials, and what can you do to stop Smart Meters?”
Jonathan Knapp, challenging incumbent Dave Daniels, presented rural Josephine County as a lawless place at night, where criminals come out from under rocks to sell drugs and commit mayhem because the county doesn’t have the resources to put “butts in the seat” of patrol vehicles after dark. Daniels said with his budget everything suffers and priorities have to painfully be made. Then the candidates turned to the jail, with Knapp saying there is no truth to the rumor he advocated closing the jail, but he did suggest perhaps Grants Pass Police could run it. Daniels took that on, saying the county does have an obligation to house and provide for the people it arrests.
Both Knapp and Daniels assured the audience they were Constitutional Sheriffs because they believed in upholding the U.S. Constitution. Knapp emphasized the Constitution is the law of the land which trumps state law and city code. Both candidates agreed they would stand up to anyone coming to take people’s guns. Knapp said gun-confiscators would be met with a “line of sheriff’s deputies” while Daniels recited parts of the Second Amendment and said of his department, “we pump out as many gun licenses as we can.”
Commissioner candidates were excited about having an administration in Washington D.C. that Josephine County might benefit from. Candidate Ron Smith was fired up by his base as he hammered on his favorite theme: Trees, trees, trees. Mining. Trees, trees, trees! The county’s resources sustained it for 80 years, he said, and can do it for another 80 if we get back to using them. Smith didn’t mention anything about sustainable harvesting, and touted his involvement in protesting National Monuments in Josephine County forests.
Candidate Darin Fowler, currently Mayor of Grants Pass, said timber isn’t the only asset in the county and thought should be given to getting more out of cannabis and vineyards. While both candidates had similar long family and community involvement Josephine County, neither got down to any concrete solutions for affordable housing, homelessness, drug addiction, and those pesky Smart Meters. Somewhere in there, the candidate’s feelings about fires and smoke got lost.
The housing discussion veered into a debate about the city annexing people who didn’t want to be annexed because taxes are so much higher in Grants Pass than in the county, then shut down when accusations of selective annexation surfaced. But the candidates did find a subject they could agree on: the high cost of housing isn’t the main cause of homelessness. It’s a nationwide problem caused by meth and heroin, said Smith. Fowler said Grants Pass makes an effort to keep the homeless from being a nuisance downtown by creating a food area around St. Vincent’s on Seventh Street and discouraging them from hanging around businesses.
“But are we really helping by giving them handouts?” he asked.
Fowler pointed out the city has a sobering center that works. Smith said a good crackdown on drug dealers now and then might put a dent in the problem. On the Smart meters, Smith said there are a lot of things commissioners have no control over but they can be a “bully pulpit” for the people’s concerns. Fowler, an electrical contractor, said the commissioners weren’t paying enough attention to people’s concerns and got “blindsided,” which led to misunderstandings.
Smith closed with his theme of cutting trees for prosperity and said only he has a real understanding of the county because he won’t be yet another city council member on the board of commissioners. Fowler said his occupation and community work has taken him into the far reaches of the county and his experience has taught him how to get along with all kinds of people.