Candidates vying for Clackamas County Commissioner Position 4 have different ideas of what the county's goals should be and how those goals should be achieved, but they agree that campaigning during a pandemic is no small task.
Commissioner Ken Humberston and his challenger Mark Shull have both, at times, struggled to connect with their constituents as COVID-19 continues to spread and restrictions on gatherings force campaigns to turn to virtual events. They will square off in a virtual debate hosted by the Clackamas County Business Alliance scheduled from noon-1 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 16.
Despite those struggles on the campaign trail, Shull and Humberston are making their best effort to get their ideas and platforms in front of as many people, virtually or otherwise, as they can.
"In a campaign season, as far as I'm concerned, you make every opportunity to give the voters a chance to take your measure," Humberston told Pamplin Media.
In the past few weeks, Humberston has participated in a few virtual meetings with groups such as seniors at the Willamette View residential community in Milwaukie, the Democratic Party of Oregon's Black Caucus and others.
Shull said he's been taking similar opportunities to connect with constituents, but admits it's been a bit of learning curve for him. Taking on this campaign has thrust him into a world where social media and technology rule. Luckily, he's received a crash course over the past six months and is now using these tools to his full advantage.
"I don't like Zoom. I like to talk to people face-to-face," Shull said. "Talking to a computer is awkward for me, but I've been working on it everyday since February, and I got to say, I think things are coming along well."
Humberston secured 48% to Shull's 27% of 114,759 votes cast in the May primary, just a narrow enough margin to force a runoff in the Nov. 3 general election. The two are hoping to earn your vote to help lead Clackamas County as it navigates reopening following a global pandemic, rebuilding after a destructive wildfire season and a host of other issues facing those voters every day.
For Humberston, his campaign is about reminding voters what they got in return for giving him a shot four years ago.
"I really have felt honored that people gave me their trust and gave me a chance to do this. I just hope they will allow me to continue at least for one more term," Humberston said.
He points to his work in helping establish the Clackamas County Veterans Village, a transitional housing cooperative that helps local veterans get back on their feet. He points to the regional relationships with the county's neighbors, which he believes were nurtured back from the brink of collapse. He points to the reinstitution of the county's Hospital Facility Authority which sparked $350 million in new hospital construction, and the 211 units of low-income housing coming in at Rosewood Station in Happy Valley, as well as the additional 400 units planned for Milwaukie.
"When you vote for somebody and give them their trust, the next time you look at them, ask 'What did they do? Did they get anything done? Did they make a difference?'" Humberston said. "I believe that I did. It's not about ideology, it's about what did you get done that makes people's lives better."
Humberston said he's even proud of some of the more unpopular work the board has done in the interest of its citizens, like last year's new vehicle registration fee that raises approximately $5 million annually for road construction.
"We bit the bullet. We did the responsible thing and passed the vehicle registration fee, and now we have 25 projects right here in Clackamas County that are being done on our roads as we speak," he said.
Humberston's reelection campaign has received endorsement from a long list of Oregon politicians including U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, former Gov. Barbara Roberts, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum and a long list of state and local leaders representing areas of Clackamas County from Milwaukie to Molalla and beyond. He even gained the support of his other primary challenger Breeauna Sagdal, who captured 23% of the vote back in May.
Humberston received a seal of approval from more than 19 Oregon unions, including Teamsters, heavy equipment operators, plumbers and steamfitters, firefighters, ironworkers, peace officers, construction workers, food workers and more. They've helped keep his campaign well funded, contributing $71,284 since June of this year. In total, Humberston has raised more than $134,000 in contributions this year, and currently has a balance of $79,705, according to state data.
Humberston said that he's proud of the fact that he's the candidate chosen by unions and hopes others see that their support is not only an endorsement of him, but also his ideas to help working families in Clackamas County.
"I was a working man my whole life. I have a decent pension and decent health care; much of that is a direct result of the union when I was working," Humberston said. "It's not just unions, it's also the business community (endorsing me) because I recognize the critical importance of a healthy business community to making sure that people have a family wage."
According to Humberston, challenges due to COVID-19, its effect on the economy and the destructive wildfires that scorched our rural communities have only further cemented his priorities for Clackamas County moving forward.
They include ensuring that every rural household has access to high-speed internet, so that every child in the county has access to schooling while the state and local jurisdictions sort out a return to in-person learning. He also knows internet access is crucial to job searching for those laid off due to COVID-19, as well as creating new business from home for those looking to become entrepreneurs.
Humberston said he wants to continue prioritizing transportation infrastructure to improve county roads and address congestion. He also wants to see the Land Bank Authority ramp up operations in order to repurpose more old industrial sites for new industries that would create jobs.
On reopening the economy and getting children back in the classroom following the COVID-19 pandemic, Humberston said he's in favor of looking at new metrics that would allow Clackamas County and the metro health region to begin making strides toward getting back to normal.
Last week, he and his fellow county commissioners instructed County Health Officer Dr. Sarah Present and Public Health Director Philip Mason-Joyner to work with their counterparts in Multnomah and Washington counties in lobbying Gov. Kate Brown and the Oregon Health Authority come up with a new set of goals and metrics for the county and metro region to move forward.
Humberston said that the county needs to continue pushing the state and federal government to infuse more funding into local jurisdictions so that they can help local businesses and schools return to some sense of normalcy in the safest and most efficient way possible.
Despite Shull being relatively new to the political scene, he believes he has a message and platform that resonates with people.
"I'm not a politician," Shull said. "I'm doing this for the people of Clackamas County."
According to Shull, his campaign in large part is about the average citizen's bottom line, protecting the wallets of taxpayers and businesses.
"The people of Clackamas County over the last six months have gone from being concerned about taxes, fees and their bank accounts, to being extremely concerned," Shull said. "A lot of people in the county are now fearful of what lies ahead."
Shull said one of the best ways to quell those fears and get Clackamas County back on track is to give the people autonomy of their county. He said he intends to push back on Metro to allow for Clackamas County to operate independently and remove cumbersome tax levies on county residents who see little to no return on Metro investments.
Shull believes that the current Board of County Commissioners is beholden to special interests like Metro and unions.
"I am your only option, because right now the 430,000 people of Clackamas County are not in control of their county," he said. "When I'm elected as commissioner, (the people) are my responsibility and no one else. I'm completely free and unencumbered by any group, organization or special interest."
Shull does, however, admit that he's proud to receive the support of Timber Unity — the fast-growing political action committee made up of farmers, loggers, timber haulers and many other industrial job sectors who opposed environmental legislation aimed at reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.
He's also received the endorsement of Tootie Smith, a longtime Clackamas County Republican and Clackamas County chair-elect, who won her seat in the May primary against incumbent Jim Bernard.
This year Shull has raised about $12,200 in campaign contributions, mostly from individual donations of less than $500 and a few small personal loans. He currently has a negative balance of about $12,466, according to state data.
Shull hopes that with his election to the board, he and Smith, along with Commissioner Paul Savas, can establish a more fiscally responsible path for Clackamas County moving forward that continues to provide a high-level of services to its residents.
"I believe the three of us will work really well together, and the people of this county are going to have a breath of fresh air and know that someone is actually looking out for them," Shull said.
According to Shull, his priorities include addressing homelessness by ensuring that substance abuse and mental health services are more accessible.
Shull said he wants to fight the high cost of housing by pushing back against "restrictive" Oregon land-use laws.
He also wants to address traffic congestion and countywide concerns over transportation by adding more vehicular lanes. Shull is advocating for Clackamas County to take an autonomous approach in rejecting Metro's Get Moving 2020 and developing road infrastructure in a way that's best for the citizens and businesses of Clackamas County. If elected, he said he plans to work with state legislators and the Oregon Department of Transportation to take a hard look at expanding vehicular lanes and creating new roads, potentially including a bypass of Highway 26 around the city of Sandy.
"A lot of our highways have a lot of congestion with no provision, no plan for alleviating that," he said.
On reopening following the COVID-19 pandemic, Shull said he believes that the county should be working with the state to give parents options on whether or not to send children back to school.
Shull said he believes that coronavirus is a serious problem and poses major threats to the vulnerable populations of Clackamas County and the nation, but he sees little threat to youth who are being more harmed, in his opinion, by being kept out of the classroom.
He said he agrees with metro neighbors working together to lobby the state to take another look at the metrics used for reopening the economy and in-person learning.
"We're Clackamas County, not metro county," Shull said. "We have our own situation. Back in April I felt that we needed to push back on the governor's mandates and demand that our county can operate, our business can operate and our schools can operate. I stand by that."
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