Two longtime Morrow County residents will vie for a spot on the Port of Morrow board, as its current occupant vacates the position after more than 50 years.
John Murray and Debbie Radie are contending for Position 5 on the Port of Morrow Board of Commissioners. Current commissioner Larry Lindsay has been in the role for 52 years. He was first elected to the commission in 1969, nine years after it started. His term expires June 30. The special district election is May 21.
Since Lindsay was first elected to that position, the port has gone through massive transitions and growth, and in 2017, generated more than $2.77 billion in economic output. It’s home to a growing workforce development program, as well as several clean energy projects and Amazon data centers.
Both Murray and Radie said they’re not looking to make big changes, but instead continue on the path the port is already on. Both have held prominent positions in Morrow County’s business community for decades, and both said that longtime commitment led them to run for a role on the port board. Murray is the owner of Murray’s Drug, which has locations in Heppner and Boardman, as well as Condon in Gilliam County. Radie is the vice president of operations for Boardman Foods, which processes onions and is located at the Port of Morrow.
Radie has been in Morrow County for about 27 years, and has been with Boardman Foods since that time. She said Boardman Foods was one of the first companies that longtime manager Gary Neal, who recently retired, attracted to the port.
She said she has been involved with various community service activities over the years, and hopes to continue that at the port.
“I was asked by some people I highly respect, who work at the port and know my skills, who said they’d like to see me run,” Radie said. “When I thought about it, I understood why it’s important for me to run. I feel it’s an opportunity for me to give back my time and energy.”
She said in her time with Boardman Foods, she has worked with port staff and the community, and has gained an understanding of the facility.
“I feel like I have the experience, and an understanding of what’s happening here, and why it’s called the ‘Morrow Miracle,’” she said. “I’ve been a part of it, and supported various functions as a tenant.”
Radie said her company was attracted to the port because of the people running it, as well as the existing infrastructure. They started construction on the plant in May of 1992, and were able to start processing onions the day after Thanksgiving in the same year.
“They had good electricity, fresh water, the waste water system was taken care of, natural gas,” she said. “The port brought in a rail spur specific to our site so we could utilize the daily services of Union Pacific, and that opened up opportunities for us that our competitors didn’t have. It had the barge service as well.”
She said wants to see the port continue on that trajectory, as well as continuing to attract diverse industries and businesses.
“With the land we have available, even in a down market, overall, businesses at the port can continue to be prosperous,” she said.
Radie said she doesn’t have one specific project in mind, and believes each project or proposal should be looked at on its own merit. She said she also wants to continue the port’s efforts to increase livability in the area, citing the recreation center and the workforce development program as successes.
Murray is a Morrow County native, and has a longtime connection to the port commission — his father-in-law is Larry Lindsay, who will vacate the position for which Murray is running. Murray said watching his father-in-law work on the commission over the years has given him a sense of the importance of the job.
“My entire adult life, I’ve worked to serve Morrow County,” he said. “I’ve owned a business, and served on the health district (board).”
With pharmacies in Boardman and Heppner, Murray said they now have customers in every community in Morrow County.
“I’m an independent business owner, and 80 to 90 percent of businesses fail within the first or second generation,” he said. “We haven’t failed.”
He said he brings hard work, discipline, and a knowledge of Morrow County, as well as a desire to see it improve.
Recently, at a town hall meeting in Boardman, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden cited work he had done with Murray to bring down pharmaceutical costs.
“We’re active in the Oregon Legislature,” he said. “We’ve done that for 20 years.”
Murray said he is not approaching the position with any particular agenda or specific project.
“I think some people fear that board members come with a particular ax to grind, and I don’t have that,” he said. “I don’t have a big course change in what the port’s doing. They’ve done a fantastic job and I’d like to see it continue.”
He said he has been impressed by the quality and variety of companies that the port has attracted, from food processing companies to Vadata, and he’d like to continue that by developing land and making it shovel-ready, so businesses can move in quickly.
He said he’d also like to see development at the port continue to benefit other areas of Morrow County.
“Developing Workforce, the Early Learning Center,” he said. “Giving kids an opportunity to come back and make a living here. The port cares about Morrow County from start to finish.”
Murray said whatever the outcome of the race, he thinks the port will be in a good position.
“It’s honestly not a bad problem to have two candidates that would do well,” he said. “It’s a win-win.”