Keepin' it clean

<p>Umatilla county commisioner candidate Jerry Baker, center, speaks at a candidate forum on Monday at Umatilla High School. The other candidates are, from left, Jack Esp, Terry Fife, George Murdock and Thomas Bailor.</p>

Five Umatilla County commissioner candidates filed into Umatilla High School Monday for one of the first forums of the election season.

With an extra placard labeled “Michael Cannon,” the sixth candidate was notably absent from the forum hosted by the Umatilla Chamber of Commerce and Visitor’s Center and the West Umatilla County League of Women Voters. Moderator Karen Hutchinson-Talaski, Umatilla Chamber of Commerce director, said the reason for his absence was unknown.

The candidates present — Jack Esp of Echo, Jerry Baker of Athena and Terry Fife, George Murdock and Tom Bailor of Pendleton — were similarly aligned in many of their views, building on each other’s points in the two minutes each was given to answer a submitted question from the estimated 20 audience members.

All candidates mentioned the need for more public safety and mental health resources.

Questions focused significantly on natural resources, energy and water. The five men agreed on pushing to increase the county’s take of Columbia River water, while wind projects were met with hesitant interest.

“I have concerns, for example, about the impact on migrating bats,” said Baker, a wildlife biologist who said the majority of his work focuses on the impact of wind projects. He is also on the county’s budget and wolf depredation committees. “I think it has a lot to do with placement. I support it on the wheatlands but not on the Blue Mountains.”

Fife, who has 30 years of experience in private business, cited the $750,000 in county taxes that the Echo wind project alone would generate each year. He also discussed improving coordination between communities within the county.

Esp talked about his frequent attendance at meetings concerning the county over the last five months, and mentioned endorsements from Right to Life and the four Tea Party groups in Umatilla County.

Bailor said he would not take endorsements, and that his only means of campaigning was through social media like Facebook. He saw potential for Umatilla County to become a destination retirement community.

Murdock saw his experience managing hundreds of employees and large budgets as a superintendent as helpful for the county commissioner role, which oversees a $62 million budget and over 300 employees.

The candidates stayed and chatted with each other after the two hour forum.

“We’re all working very hard to be positive,” Murdock said. “We don’t want this to become a mudslinging campaign.”

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Contact Natalie Wheeler at nwheeler@eastoregonian.com or 541-564-4536.

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