Races for county commissioners quickly get crowded
With two additions in the final days for candidates to file, the number of candidates running for Yamhill County Commissioner has grown to seven.
Stan Primozich, who was elected for the first time in 2016, will face three challengers for Position No. 1 on the board, while Mary Starrett will have two opponents in her bid for a third full term.
Attempting to unseat Starrett for Position No. 3 are Chelsey Williams, a small-business owner, mediation consultant and Oregon State University graduate teaching assistant from McMinnville; and retired water treatment chemist David Wall of Newberg.
Primozich will have to fend off challenges from Dayton farmer Casey Kulla, mental health worker and county employee union president Josh Rojas of McMinnville and former congressional candidate Jason Yates of Yamhill.
Williams, Kulla and Rojas filed to run in early to mid-February, with Wall throwing his name in the hat March 2 and Yates joining the fray on March 6, the final day to file.
"Decisions such as this are not entered into lightly," Yates said via email. "My decision was well thought out and reasoned. I want to help keep this county on track and living within its means."
Yates, who lost his challenge to Democrat Suzanne Bonamici in 2014 and ran against incumbent Debbie Hawblitzel for Newberg school board in 2015, said he felt compelled to run because there wasn't a fiscal conservative in the race for Position No. 1.
"There wasn't anyone running of the three other candidates in this race that I could consider voting for," Yates said. "I'll be addressing these issues in the coming weeks to give voters the information they'll need to decide which candidate speaks for them."
Kulla was raised in Lincoln City and received undergraduate (chemistry) and graduate (masters in environmental science) degrees from Western Washington University before returning to Oregon to found Oak Hill Organics in 2006. He began attending Yamhill County Water Task Force meetings in 2017 and decided, in part, to run for commissioner because, as a resident of unincorporated Yamhill County, it was the only feasible way for him to become a public servant, especially in an elected position, at the county level.
Being a farmer, he said he is especially interested and familiar with county workings when it comes to land-use and planning decisions because he knows what it's like to be on the winning and losing sides of those decisions.
"Those decisions have less effect on incorporated city dwellers, but for rural unincorporated Yamhill County folks it's a big deal," Kulla said. "It can limit your livelihood that they're making decisions based on. I think it's not a stretch to say that I know the gravity of everyone those decisions that need to be made."
Rojas, who led the Yamhill County Employees Association in a contentious and difficult labor negotiation that dragged late into 2017, said that was not the reason he is running for office. He said he wants to serve on the board for the same reasons that he became the union president: because he saw issues in how the county operated while working as a team facilitator with the county mental health department, but was limited in his ability to address them.
"I know people will question that and I'm okay with questions," Rojas said. "I'll answer those questions as transparently as possible. This was a personal decision, made with my family even before I told my board what I was going to do. I kept that to myself because I feel like that role is separate and this is a personal decision."
Williams said her professional skills and experience having lived in both Newberg and Dayton prior to moving to McMinnville, will bring something new to the board. In addition to providing bookkeeping services through one of her small businesses, Association & Conference Services, she is teaching communications classes at Oregon State University while she pursues a master's degree in interdisciplinary studies with a focus on communication in adult education.
"I feel like everything I have done in my life up to this point has set me up to take on a role as a public servant because that kind of position is so diverse," Williams said. "You're working with small business owners, you're working with nonprofits, you're networking. A lot of what happens in the commissioner's position plays to my strengths and my educational background."
Wall's primary focus as a candidate is on land use, particularly to preserve farmland, but he is also considers himself a budget savvy citizen having provided criticism and analysis for the county the last few years and for decades before that in San Jose, California, although not in an elected or appointed capacity.
One of his goals is to make the county budget truly readable by anybody.
"There's a lot of hieroglyphics in there," Wall said. "Anybody should be able to go in there and pick that budget up or see it on the Internet and read it completely and know where the money is going. They've got the fairground expenses, for example, spread out all over the globe."
In terms of age, Wall is the major outlier among the challengers seeking to be elected to public office for the first time, as both Rojas and Kulla are 38 and Williams is 46.
"At some point, I think we as a younger generation need to take responsibility for what's happening because we have to be handed the torch at some point," Rojas said. "If we're not getting involved and being a part of it, we can't complain about what happens down the line. This is just as much our responsibility and I think continuing that success only happens if things are being passed on because we're getting involved."