2021 IN REVIEW: Aloha commissioner sways Washington County board
She's been on the Washington County commission for less than a year, but Nafisa Fai isn't waiting around to make her mark in county government.
Fai ran for county commissioner last year, after incumbent Dick Schouten chose to run for a seat in the Oregon Senate rather than seek re-election. At the time, Fai, an Aloha resident, touted her background in public health and community work — among other endeavors, she was one of Gov. Kate Brown's appointees to an advisory committee for the Oregon Health Authority's public health division — and said she wanted to apply that background as an elected county commissioner.
The composition of the county commission has shifted dramatically over the past two election cycles, swinging from an all-male board dominated by rural conservatives to a majority-female board led by suburban liberals. That gives a commissioner like Fai a degree of influence that her predecessor, Schouten, lacked for much of his time on the board.
In September and October, the county commission considered a proposal by anti-tobacco advocates to restrict the sale of flavored tobacco and vaping products to businesses like liquor stores that don't serve customers under age 21. That pitch was widely panned by convenience store owners and others who argued that their businesses would be negatively affected — the ordinance would simply drive their customers to liquor stores, with whom they could no longer compete.
The board's two conservative commissioners, Roy Rogers and Jerry Willey, had reservations about the draft ordinance, on the grounds that telling certain businesses they couldn't sell certain products would be unfair.
Fai offered a different solution: broaden the ban to include age-restricted businesses as well, so no retailer in Washington County could legally sell flavored tobacco and vaping products.
"This will really help reposition Washington County (with) bold commissioners, as a bold board that really changes the trajectory of Oregon," Fai said, adding: "This is a hard decision, but we're ultimately protecting our community and our youth."
What would have likely been a 3-2 vote on the county commission to restrict the sale of flavored tobacco and vaping products instead became a 3-2 vote to ban the sale of flavored tobacco and vaping products outright. Fai was joined by frequent allies Kathryn Harrington and Pam Treece in voting to amend, then pass, the ordinance in November. Washington County became the first county in Oregon to adopt such a ban.
"This assists in discouraging youth access and initiation, as well as de-normalizes the use of tobacco in our communities," Harrington said, explaining her decision to support Fai's amendments.
Willey was particularly frustrated by what he called a "bait-and-switch."
"We should be able to find something that works for everybody," Willey protested before the board voted to adopt Fai's amendments. "This is a bad idea."
The ordinance took effect earlier this month, although it will officially be enforced in the New Year.
A Washington County spokesperson said that through June, the Oregon Health Authority will "focus on education" to bring stores into compliance with the ban. After that, the OHA will conduct unannounced inspections and cite violators.
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