Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Curious incident at County County Commission event.

In the midst of the Trump whirlwind, an oasis of calm and sanity.

Two candidates. Eight questions from the floor.  There was one curious incident: There were 46 minutes of political discussion, without a single mention of Trump. 

That was the curious incident. 

Lanita Witt
Two candidates for County Commissioner met in my home and talked about their campaigns and the issues facing the county. They are both Democrats, running for two seats on the Jackson County Board of Commissioners held by Republicans. Lanita Witt is a rural landowner and retired physician. Amy Thuren is a nonprofit agency executive director, currently a charter school principal, previously head of the local Red Cross chapter and Consumer Counseling center. 

It was a standard meet-and-greet event. Name tags, one-on one visits; wine and cheese and fizzy water; introduction of distinguished guests; speeches by the candidates; Q & A; a fundraising pitch; back to visiting. It is the bedrock campaign event in a local campaign.

The event went without incident, except for the hardest thing to notice: what did not happen. It wasn't about Trump. It was about the problems facing Jackson County, Oregon.

The candidates talked about:

1. Forest fires. The air on Sunday hit the "hazardous" level in Medford, and is currently "unhealthy." Many guests wore breathing masks. It is miserable to live and it is hurting the tourist industry, including the very visible Shakespeare Festival theater. The two candidates talked about forest management needs and how this might reduce forest fires.

Amy Thuren
2. Homeless people are living in downtown Medford and in the park-like riparian zone along the creek that runs through the Bear Creek valley. Local citizens created a 20-mile Greenway park and bicycle path through the center of the county. Homeless people camp in it. They start fires and leave trash and create a use conflict with joggers and bicyclists. The two candidates talked about the problems of managing that problem with programs in mental health and affordable housing.

3. LNG Pipeline. There is a proposal to ship natural gas from the Rocky Mountain to the west coast Port of Coos Bay, via a trunk pipeline, which would pass through Jackson County. Many local residents consider it invasive and dangerous, and resent the idea that eminent domain would be used to get easements for the benefit of a private company. Both candidates talked about why they oppose it.

4. Cascade-Siskiyou Monument. The area contains merchantable timber and there is controversy of the appropriate size of this bio-diverse area. Both candidates support maintaining its current size.

5. Need for a new jail. The current jail was built 35 years ago, when I was County Commissioner. I had advocated for a large size, with growing room. We badly underestimated the time it would take to outgrow it. Moreover, when we built it seismic issues were essentially unknown here. Now we know. We experienced a modest earthquake some 25 years ago, to the surprise of nearly everyone, and a potential "Big One" in the form of a Cascade Subduction earthquake is now top of mind. Jails are expensive to build and staff. The candidates talked about jail space needs.
Forest Fire Smoke

6. Nonprofit/county coordination. Some of the public service work that might be done by county employees--especially addiction treatment--is done under contract with local nonprofit agencies. One of these, OnTrack, underwent personnel changes then disruption. The candidates talked about the addiction programs and organization to carry them out.

7. Adding hydro-electric power to the agricultural irrigation canals. The area has old high-elevation irrigation lakes which feed the agricultural land on the valley floor. There is some 3,000 in elevation drop and hydropower retrofitting would address the canal-leakage problem plus provide a revenue source. The candidates discussed the feasibility of this retrofitting.

7. Other mentions: 4-H programs, economic development programs, re-habilitation of Hawthorne Park, farm products, individualized instruction in schools, the county airport, and at the very end in one-on-one discussions, marijuana cultivation and sale. 

Summary and takeaway: 

Normal political life continues. Donald Trump dominates the national political news, but the there is another level of government taking place almost without notice. It is the serious day to day business of providing the services that make a community possible. Water and sewer systems, law enforcement, jails, probation programs, the court system, restaurant inspections, public health systems, rural roads and zoning, and the money from property taxes to pay for these and other services do not just happen. This is what local government provides.

And that is what the candidates for county commissioner talked about, the serious business of day to day government. Not Trump.

Democracy still works.

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