Lively contest for Washington County chair
Four candidates offer contrasting experiences, styles and stances for the leadership of Washington County in what is shaping up as the region's liveliest campaign in the May 15 primary.
The candidates for the open position, in alphabetical order:
• Ryan Deckert, 46, of Beaverton, a former state legislator and former president of the Oregon Business Association, which has since merged with another group.
• Kathryn Harrington, 58, of Beaverton, formerly a high-tech worker, who was elected to the Metro Council in 2006 and has served the maximum three terms.
• Bob Terry, 72, of Hillsboro, a retired nursery owner, longtime county budget committee member, and since 2011, the District 4 (west) county commissioner. He is vacating his current seat.
• Shabba Woodley, 27, of Beaverton, a telecommunications sales representative. He made a bid for the Democratic nomination for the 1st District congressional seat in 2016.
Although the board chair is just one of five commissioners, the position is elected countywide — the others are elected by districts — and it is considered full-time.
Washington County is Oregon's second most populous and eventual will surpass Multnomah County. Home to sportswear giant Nike and 19,000 workers employed by chip-maker Intel, the county is often described as Oregon's economic engine — and also the state's most diverse with one-third of its people from racial and ethnic minorities.
County government employs about 2,000 people and its annual budget tops $1 billion. The board appoints an administrator to oversee operations, but the chair plays a big role in representing the county.
The winner will succeed Andy Duyck, who is leaving after 24 years on the board, the past eight as board chairman.
The position is nonpartisan, although three are registered Democrats and Terry a registered Republican.
If no one wins a majority in the primary, the top two finishers advance to the Nov. 6 general election.
The county charter specifies that the chair's salary is 80 percent of a circuit judge — about $110,000 as of this year — and the other members earn 40 percent, about $55,000.
Deckert has led in campaign fundraising — he had amassed more than $220,000 during the cycle as of the end of April — followed by Harrington with $170,000, Terry with $90,000 and Woodley with $5,000.
Capsules of the candidates are below. For their comments on selected issues, see this story online.
Deckert grew up in Beaverton, where he and his wife are raising three daughters, and was elected at age 25 to the first of two terms in the Oregon House. Four years later, he unseated an incumbent in the Oregon Senate.
Midway into that term, when the Senate had its first 15-15 tie in almost five decades, Deckert was chosen to lead the Finance and Revenue Committee as part of the power-sharing arrangement negotiated by both parties. During his tenure, he shaped the 2007 Gain Share legislation that enabled Washington County to receive state payments, which partly offset property tax breaks the county granted for large investments by companies such as Intel and Genentech.
He led the committee for three cycles until the end of 2007, when he resigned his Senate seat to become president of the Oregon Business Association. Its membership ranged, as he put it, "from Nike to New Seasons."
One of his major contributions there was to take the lead on crafting an Oregon Business Plan to advance economic and social goals, which now has been embraced by business groups.
"We call it a progressive and positive vision for the state, instead of the traditional business approach, which is what we are against," he said.
Among the endorsements Deckert has listed is that of Duyck. Duyck said he will vote for Bob Terry, his board colleague of eight years. But Duyck said Deckert would be an acceptable board leader in a joint statement with Tom Brian of Tigard — Duyck's predecessor as chair, who has endorsed Deckert — and Commissioner Roy Rogers, who has endorsed Terry.
Deckert says his experience will help him be a good leader for the county.
"I do think my background of having those roots here, working in the private sector, working in elected life and knowing the ins and outs have set me up well for what will be a game-changing four years," he said.
Harrington was in high tech before she won the first of three terms on the Metro Council in 2006. She has served the maximum time in District 4, which takes in northwest Beaverton and Hillsboro, Cornelius and Forest Grove.
She has been the most critical of the four candidates about the direction of county government, which she says has not paid enough attention to housing and social service needs for its less affluent residents.
For example, she said, while the county staff has made use of planning grants from Metro, the county board has not move aggressively to encourage development of housing deemed "affordable" at 30 percent or less of median household income.
"I think the next chair is going to have to ensure that the board shapes opportunities for the benefit of all, but navigates challenges so that no one is left behind," she said. "Quite frankly, too many people are being left behind in our community right now. I want to make sure we stem the tide."
Harrington has amassed a long list of endorsements, from two sitting commissioners — Greg Malinowski and Dick Schouten — to mayors and city councilors, virtually all state lawmakers, U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici and former Gov. Barbara Roberts. The only sitting legislator from the county who did not endorse her is Sen. Mark Hass of Beaverton, who holds Deckert's old seat.
"We have some systemic problems in the county," she said. "I would love to have the opportunity to serve as the leader of the county commission to set a positive tone and let everyone have the opportunity to prosper."
Although Terry is not the incumbent, he was a public member of the county budget committee for 14 years until 2010 — when he agreed to run for District 4 commissioner if Duyck, then the incumbent, would run for board chairman.
Both won then and both were re-elected in 2014.
Terry makes no apologies for what county government has done over the past decade.
"One of the things I bring to this job … is the institutional knowledge of the county and how it works," he said. "I am proud of our county. It works very well, it's well managed, and it's run like a government business."
None of the others, he said, has direct experience with the county.
But while Terry supports the status quo, he also said the county must do more in mental health and public safety, housing and transportation.
"I will take the good pieces of what we have and take them forward in a new direction — but not a direction the others running for this office are taking," he said. "I do not want to destroy everything we have done."
Terry said the Hawthorn walk-in mental health clinic, opened in 2017 in Hillsboro, has already proven its worth. He said he wants to create a similar clinic in eastern Washington County, and that capacity for mental health needs should be part of a contemplated expansion of the 20-year-old county jail in Hillsboro.
Terry favors a continuation of public-private partnerships that have led to subsidized housing projects around the county — though he acknowledges they fall short of what is needed — and the county's ongoing efforts to reduce what he calls "homelessness and houselessness."
Differing with the other candidates — but agreeing with state Rep. Rich Vial, R-Scholls, who has proposed a private toll road — Terry said a full westside bypass road isn't in the cards immediately, but some steps ought to be taken toward improvements on north-south routes.
"These are things I want to see finished," he said.
Woodley acknowledges that unlike the other candidates, he has not held public office — but that he is closer than they are to the concerns of ordinary people.
"I believe that pretty much what is missing from our county government in the past couple of decades is the perspective of everyday people and what's happening on the ground," he said.
"People talk a lot about what is needed in government but they do not sense the urgency."
Woodley said he has learned a lot since his first bid for public office in 2016, when he won 10 percent of the primary vote against Democratic Rep. Suzanne Bonamici. She went on to win a third full term in the 1st District congressional seat of northwest Oregon.
Woodley, a graduate of Madison High School in Portland, raised a younger brother after their mother died. That brother now attends college out of state.
He said he is seeking to help people in similar circumstances, especially those who feel the economic pinch from soaring housing costs and stagnating wages.
He said a regional bond issue for housing, which the Metro Council is considering for the Nov. 6 ballot, would be a start.
"We talk about things that need to be done regardless of the political climate," he said.
Although Washington County has one of Oregon's lowest unemployment rates and highest median household incomes, he said, "It means people who are poorer get pushed out. We need to make sure these people have a place in our county."
(Note: Fixes error in statement issued by Andy Duyck, Tom Brian and Roy Rogers about Ryan Deckert's candidacy. Commissioner Rogers has endorsed Bob Terry for board chairman; previous story said Rogers was neutral in the race.)
Views on selected issues by candidates for Washington County board chair:
On housing: An "all of the above" strategy is required to increase temporary shelters and permanent housing.
"The market is not going to take care of homeless children," he said, such as the state-leading 1,522 students tallied in 2017 in the Beaverton School District.
"We haven't had a big strategy for housing, and we see the effects of it," he said. "We are short 23,000 units, and the effects are felt across the board."
He would propose rezoning along major corridors, such as Canyon Road (Highway 8) through Beaverton and Highway 99W through Tigard to allow mixed residential and commercial uses.
While he would support a regional bond under consideration by the Metro Council to supply money for housing projects, he said counties and cities should decide specifics.
On transportation: He said recent developments, such as South Hillsboro and North Cooper Mountain in Beaverton, fail to bring their residents close to services and shopping — and create the likelihood of future traffic congestion.
"Livability is diminishing for tens of thousands of residents," he said. "We are going to have to design communities differently. People are not going to want to drive 25 minutes in traffic."
He also has questioned the assumptions for the proposed Southwest Corridor light-rail extension from Portland to Tigard and Tualatin. He said the prospect of automated cars may make such large projects untenable in the future.
On housing: Because of demand, she said, "we are capturing a larger percentage of younger college-educated workers (ages 20 to 35) to our area" compared with other like-sized metro areas — and they are squeezing out low-income families.
She said the shortage must be dealt with through a joint effort of the Metro Council, communities and nonprofit groups – and she will have a chance as a Metro councilor to weigh in on the proposed regional bond for housing projects.
She put the blame squarely on the current majority on the county board.
"It means that when they think anyone has difficulty in their lives, it must be the result of the bad decisions individuals make," she said. "As a result of that philosophy, they've not been willing to step up to the plate. But our community members expect government to step up to this housing crisis."
She supports many of the same steps endorsed by other candidates, such as rezoning along major corridors, building new projects with nonprofit partners, and repairing and acquiring existing housing
On transportation: She is a supporter of the proposed Southwest Corridor light-rail link between Portland, Tigard and Bridgeport Village in Tualatin.
She said the line would increase transit capacity beyond what is possible via a bus rapid-transit project — and that Highway 99W cannot accommodate more cars, even if many become automated.
On housing: He is a supporter of the county's current efforts to build housing for the neediest through partnerships with developers and nonprofit agencies. He said it does no good for officials to demonize builders.
"If you sit down at the table with them and tell them what you want to do and how to do it, then you are going to have a much better understanding and get people on your side to make it successful," he said.
Terry said even a regional bond such as what the Metro Council is considering is not an answer by itself.
"It's like a little boy putting his finger in the dike before it breaks," he said.
"The bond can help us get started, but you and I have to pay for that bond. If we pay for everything we are hearing about on the campaign trail, we'd be reaching into our pockets and grabbing our kneecaps."
On transportation: He would favor an effort to build a bypass allowing freight traffic on Sunset Highway to avoid going into downtown Portland. He acknowledges that a full westside bypass, proposed two decades ago, would be unrealistic – but some parts could proceed.
He also has raised questions about the expense and public support for the proposed Southwest Corridor light-rail link between Portland, Tigard and Tualatin. The project is likely to require voter approval in 2020 of a regional bond for transportation projects.
On housing: "We have a lot of property that can be rezoned for housing," he said, and somehow the county needs to find ways to raise money to rehabilitate existing housing now considered "affordable."
"We have to make sure we have a (regional) bond that does not make things worse" in terms of driving up housing prices or driving out low- and middle-income residents.
On transportation: "I believe we should have a mantra of living close to where you work. The main issue is congestion."
He proposes "free and accessible" public transportation between communities that cluster homes, work and services, but hasn't specify how it would be paid for. The 2017 Legislature's transportation package does levy a new statewide payroll tax — similar to what TriMet and the Lane Transit District have — some proceeds from which TriMet will use to support fares for low-income people.