Paul Savas faces two re-election opponents
Clackamas County Commissioner Paul Savas filed for re-election last October, and on next month's ballot faces two challengers to his re-election in Louise Lopes and Peter Winter.
What follows are profiles of all three candidates in alphabetical order:
Like many residents across the country, Mulino resident Louise Lopes was galvanized by the results of the 2016 presidential election.
Having grown up in Washington, D.C., in the 1960s, Lopes has always been politically active and voted in every election since she turned 18. But she hit a new gear in late 2016 — attending rallies and finding new ways to get involved.
"Finally, I decided I wanted to run for something," she said.
Lopes hoped to find a lower-level position so she could ease her way into electoral politics. In the end, she found something much bigger than she'd anticipated: Position 2 on the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners.
"I live in an unincorporated area of the county — very small, very rural, and there wasn't anything to run for except this position," Lopes said. "It's kind of a big leap for someone who is a first-time candidate, but hey, one of my opponents is a first-time candidate. ... I took a chance and I jumped for it."
A 27-year county resident and retired state worker, Lopes believes she has plenty to offer despite her lack of experience in elected office.
"When dealing with government issues, it helps to have background in government," Lopes said. "Putting all of that knowledge into use would be a natural fit for me. I'm not a foreigner in government — I worked my whole career in government."
Indeed, before retiring in 2011, Lopes worked for the Oregon State Health Division before moving on to the Oregon Department of Revenue and later the Oregon Department of Corrections. At the Department of Corrections, she worked as an analyst in sentencing law.
"Believe it or not, Oregon has the most complex sentencing laws in the U.S.," she said. "Our position was to mitigate litigation in the department and ensure accurate sentencing."
The work gave Lopes a unique perspective on the prison population and the big-picture issues surrounding it.
"Working at the women's prison, we learned a lot about the inmates. A large percentage of them have suffered from mental illness — they also come from backgrounds of physical or sexual abuse, as well as substance abuse issues," Lopes said. "Those issues tie into society — of course it's bigger than Clackamas County, it's statewide. But it really shows you that the inmate population could be greatly reduced if more was put into the front end when it comes to children's education, good family life, mental health services."
Economic issues and urban growth would be other areas of focus for Lopes if she were elected.
"There's big differences in types of residents (in the county) and the struggle is to balance all of that, to have a good life for everyone," Lopes said. "I'm a big protector of farm and forest land, because I'm a steward of the environment; I'm an environmentalist. I want to see land protected for farm and forest use, and I don't want to see urban sprawl continue. But at the same time, I want people to have affordable housing and that has become such a problem, not just in Clackamas County but in the entire metropolitan area of Portland."
She said tenant protections for those who are priced out or evicted from housing would be a priority, as well as increasing the amount of affordable housing available in the county.
"I don't have a magic wand, and for me being new it would be a learning curve, but I'd just love to jump in and do what I can," she said.
In the eight years since Paul Savas joined the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners, many of the core issues facing the region haven't changed.
But Savas has changed, and he feels more prepared than ever to advocate on behalf of matters like transportation, housing and employment if he's elected to a third term in Position 2 in May.
"One thing I've gained as a commissioner is I really have a lot of relationships, and I believe they're a benefit to everyone at the county and the commission," Savas said. "Once people know you and understand you and know you're consistent ... that helps. If you're new, and they don't know, you have to prove yourself."
For Savas a third term would be "renewing the commitment I made" in 2010.
"What I foresaw back in 2010 when I ran was this need for more jobs, and I also saw the pending dilemma for younger folks and families, especially — that the job market and cost for housing and the hurdle they had to climb ... was I thought pretty challenging," Savas said.
While the county has made gains in certain areas since Savas joined the commission, he said the same core issues remain at the forefront.
"Now the challenges are more prominent, and frankly more obvious," Savas said.
Housing, in particular, is a concern as more residents of varying socioeconomic statuses are priced out of the region.
"If I could change anything in my efforts going forward, it's really to work on housing for all folks — families, seniors," Savas said. "I was at a community meeting the other day and a long-term resident in the area said, 'This will be my last meeting; I'm being forced out of the area because of rising rents.' I've experienced that myself ... My kids may not be able to afford living here in this state."
Transportation remains at the forefront of Savas' mind as well, and he serves on a number of regional committees related to that issue. Specifically, widening I-205 and continuing to extend the Sunrise Corridor that runs from the Milwaukie Expressway east to 122nd Avenue would be priorities for Savas in his third term.
"Some of the naysayers are agreeing (now) that Sunrise is the way to more jobs," Savas said.
Something that Savas was less aware of when he first joined the commission is what he calls "the urban-rural divide."
"(It is) far more challenging than I had originally thought, and we need to understand and be sensitive to all of those needs," Savas said. "A person in poverty in a rural area is in a far more difficult situation than in an urban area ... there's not much out there."
Savas defeated incumbent Bob Austin for Position 2 in 2010. He fended off Karen Bowerman, then a Lake Oswego City Councilor, to win re-election in 2014. He also made losing bids for board chairman in 2012 and 2016.
Now, he hopes to rejoin a commission that he says has gelled nicely in recent years.
"My colleagues, we get along really well — this is one of the better commissions I've worked on," he said. "I'm really looking forward to rolling up my sleeves and focusing my time after the election is over."
If you ask Oak Grove resident Peter Winter why he's running for Position 2 on the Clackamas County Board of Commissioners, the first thing he'll mention is a paradox he's noticed in recent years.
"By any measure, we're more successful and stronger as a region than at any time," Winter said. "But we're failing too many people. We've got 600 homeless kids in the North Clackamas School District alone, veterans coming home disenfranchised ... (we've had) stagnant wages for the last five years, while the cost of living has skyrocketed."
All of that was enough to persuade Winter, a former construction project manager, to throw his name into what is now a three-person race for the county commission. While he does not have any direct government experience, Winter points to his years working on government contracts and his time as a small-business owner — including during his time living in China — as valuable points of perspective he could bring to the commission.
"I've worked as a contractor for facilities and engineering for the Department of Defense and the U.S. Corps of Engineers ... I have a long track history of working with governments, including China, " Winter said. "A lot of what I'm advocating for is to take a different approach to how we contract at the county level — borrow from the federal government ideas like multiple-award contracts ... and set aside contracts for women, minorities, service-disabled veterans," he said.
Winter, who grew up in Clackamas County and graduated from Rex Putnam High School in 1998, said he has three primary goals if he is elected.
"First and foremost, my priorities are helping the vulnerable who seem to be slipping through the cracks," he said. "Number two is we need to start getting caught up with the rest of the world in how we're modernizing the workforce ... We need to start planning on how the government and county will start working with factories to make sure they're paying a living wage. And the third is, in growing our economy, we need to look beyond Clackamas County and include industries well beyond our borders."
Infrastructure spending is particularly important, Winter said.
"We need more highways, because we all experience the traffic every day," he said. "We need $1.5 billion in infrastructure spending in place on the books so we can weather the next recession coming in the next 3-5 years."
However, Winter said he is "adamantly opposed" to the Sunrise Corridor expansion project using the methodology championed by Savas.
"His idea is to get more tract housing there," Winter said. "I see it as the gateway for a large manufacturing hub ... people can all go to work there instead of the 68 percent of us who have to go outside the county to obtain a job."
He added that if the county attracts more residents without adding jobs, the traffic situation will only worsen. And in talking to voters, traffic has frequently been listed as a priority, according to Winter.
"That's not what I thought it would be," he said. "A lot of things have to do with lifestyle and convenience and traffic. ... It's been a pretty big deal for people I've been talking to."
Yet for Winter, inequality is the driving force behind the campaign.
"For me, this is personal, and I have been poor," he said. "I see lots of struggles here for families, it's too difficult for them to get by."