It took more than a month after the filing deadline, but a candidate just committed to running for an open seat on the Pendleton School Board.
The March 21 deadline came and went without a candidate for school board Position 6, which is being vacated after school board member Michelle Monkman decided against running for another term.
That’s when current and former board members sprung into action and recruited Julie Muller, a stay-at-home mom and a part-time photographer, to run a write-in campaign for the seat.
Muller said running for a school board seat wasn’t on her radar until she was approached by the board members, but after thinking about it further, she thought it was a group where she could contribute.
“This wasn’t planned for me,” she said. “I didn’t have it in my sights.”
Born and raised in Pendleton, Muller, 33, said her son is a first-grader at McKay Creek Elementary School and her younger daughter will start attending kindergarten at the Pendleton Early Learning Center in 2020.
Muller thought her experience as a mother of two young children could be an asset to the board, and other people associated with the Pendleton School Board apparently think so as well.
In addition to putting the word out social media, Muller said current and former board members plan to write a letter to the editor encouraging voters to write in her name.
Her supporters include her potential predecessor Monkman, who said she was endorsing Muller’s candidacy.
Having an electoral race decided by write-in vote isn’t uncommon for Umatilla County, especially in off-year races where school boards and small taxing districts comprise most of the seats.
In 2019, 18 seats had no candidate file for them, three times the amount of seats that feature a competitive race.
If no one files for a seat, the Umatilla County Elections Division automatically turns to the write-in vote to determine the winner of the race.
The division then contacts the winner to determine if that person will accept the position. If they don’t, the board, council, or commission in charge of that seat gets the chance to make an appointment.
The write-in process can sometimes lead to unusual outcomes.
In 2017, Hermiston School Board member Mark Gomolski won his seat with 14 write-in votes after no one filed for the open seat.
More seriously, Lou Nakapalau won a seat on the Echo City Council as a write-in candidate, only to resign in January 2018 after homophobic remarks made on Facebook and a prior conviction for child pornography charges came to light. He died two weeks after his effective resignation date.
But having no candidates for a seat on the Pendleton School Board, which governs the third-largest school district by enrollment in Eastern Oregon, is far more uncommon.
Monkman said she was surprised that no one filed for her seat.
She wasn’t very public about her announcement that she wouldn’t run for another term after 11 years on the school board, but she had talked about the prospect with several people.
But she now counts herself as a Muller supporter, citing her experience as a resident who was educated in the Pendleton School District as a positive quality.
The rest of the ballot
For voters across Umatilla and Morrow counties, there are other noteworthy things on the ballot.
The Stanfield School District is seeking a $14 million bond and, if passed, the district would receive a matching $4 million grant from the state and the combined proceeds would go toward a new middle school, career technical education facilities at the secondary school, and further renovations of the elementary and secondary schools.
Amidst the bond campaign, Cecili Longhorn, the Stanfield Public Library director, and Jim Griffin, a worker for Umatilla Electric Cooperative, are running for an open Stanfield School Board seat.
Iin Morrow County, the Morrow County Health District is holding an election to renew its 39-cent levy for five years. The health district funds the hospital in Heppner, three clinics across the county, and county-wide ambulance services.
One of the only notable races in Morrow County is the race for an open Port of Morrow Commission seat. John Murray, the owner of Murray’s Drug, and Debbie Radie, the vice president of operations for Boardman Foods, are running for the seat.
There are several other contested races in Umatilla County.
Umatilla Rural Fire Protection District board member Bob Holden is also trying to pull off a successful write-in campaign, which he was forced to do after accidentally missing the filing deadline.
Holden will try to win another term versus the only person who filed for the seat, former Umatilla city councilor and Encore Wellness 4 Life co-owner Mark Keith.
Keith’s employee at Encore, office manager Kelly Payan, is also running for a Umatilla Fire District seat against incumbent Fred Sheely. Jennifer Armstrong, Keith’s wife and also an Encore co-owner, is running for a seat on the Umatilla School Board against incumbent Toby Cranston.
On the east side of Umatilla County, self-employed food consultant Shannon Hoehna is challenging incumbent Athena-Weston School Board member Jennifer McClure-Spurgeon, who also serves as the mayor of Weston.
In Echo, Echo School Board member Connie Caplinger, a former Umatilla County administrator, will have to earn another term against Emily Spike, a bookkeeper for Spike Ranch.
Umatilla County Fire District board member Spike Piersol is facing a contested race against Sebestian Sanchez, a cashier at Main Street Market in Stanfield.
Umatilla County Elections has already started distributing ballots in the mail. Election Day is May 21.