John Shafer is moving on up.
The Athena mayor and sheriff’s dispatch supervisor unseated incumbent Larry Givens to win the position 2 seat on the Umatilla County Board of Commissioners. Unofficial county results show Shafer won 52.6 percent to 47 percent.
Shafer, several members of his family and close supporters gathered for election night in the meeting room at the Pendleton Oxford Suites. Chatter and the clatter of dinnerware died down while Shafer and the crowd awaited the election results on the county’s website. About a quarter past 8 p.m., the cheers erupted.
Shafer thanked his family for their support and hard work on the campaign trail, and he thanked husband and wife Charles and Suni Danforth of Milton-Freewater, who were Shafer’s primary campaign backers. Beating an incumbent with years of experience is not easy, he said.
He also dabbed away tears, joking, “My eyes are sweating a little bit.”
Shafer said he plans to work for the sheriff’s office right up until he takes office in January 2019. And before dealing with mental health services and other issues he brought up on the campaign, Shafer said he plans to get the pulse of county government.
“First I want to meet with all the county department heads,” he said. “I want to make sure we’re on the same page. ... I definitely want to hear from the department heads right out of the gate.”
He also said he wants to meet with incumbent commissioners Bill Elfering and George Murdock, who is on his way to a November runoff against challenger Rick Pullen.
Givens during the campaign touted the multiple state, regional and national boards and committees he serves on to show his work for county citizens. But Shafer hammered Givens on that participation, claiming it often took him away from county business. At the same time, Shafer stressed relationship building as part of his platform.
Shafer said both points played a role in his win, as did putting in hours of knocking on doors to ask for votes in person.
Givens was at home in Umapine with his wife. He called the loss disappointing but added he is a firm believer things happen for a reason. He speculated multiple circumstances played a role in the race, from voters who wanted change to the country’s general anti-government attitude slopping over into the local scene.
Murdock was winning with 45.8 percent in the race for county commissioner position 1, while Pullen pulled 30.2 percent and Tom Bailor received 23.7 percent. That sends Murdock and Pullen, both of Pendleton, down the road to a runoff.
Murdock said he is happy to be the front-runner with a 17-point lead and looking forward to time off the campaign. Seeking political office, he said, tends to get in the way of work.
For Bailor, also of Pendleton, the loss is his third in three attempts to win a seat as county commissioner. He acknowledged the difficulties of running against Murdock, who has the local name recognition and the funds to mount a larger campaign. Bailor said if he achieved nothing else in the campaign, he showed if he can run for public office, others can as well.
“We do need to have choices,” he said. “It’s important for people to vote. But it’s also important for people to run.”
Givens still has seven more months of work as a commissioner, which starts again Wednesday morning. The county board has a packed day, beginning at 9 a.m. at the courthouse in Pendleton with a land use hearing on Echo farmer Kent Madison’s proposal for a recreational vehicle park near exit 182 off Interstate 84. The county board then moves into a regular meeting before returning for a 1:30 p.m. land use appeal hearing on Blue Mountain Hay, which seeks to build a fertilizer and seed production facility on Highway 11 near Appleton Road, Milton-Freewater.