Every election season, the East Oregonian researches the issues and candidates as carefully as possible to determine the best choice to represent and lead our cities, county, state and nation.
It is fair to say, however, that this election season has been like nothing anyone has ever seen. COVID-19 has turned life all over the world upside down. Candidates who usually go door-to-door, attend parades, hug babies and give stump speeches at public events have been forced to conduct virtual campaigns via videoconference and other electronic means.
It’s been a dramatic change for the newspaper, too. In years past, the editorial board of the EO would meet with candidates individually and host in-person candidate forums. Now, with COVID-19 and social distancing making those types of gatherings impossible, we embraced technology to let us hold virtual forums and meet with candidates remotely.
But through it all, we have managed to get to the heart of local and regional issues and determine where each candidate stands on the issues that are important to voters here in Eastern Oregon. Based on this, we offer our endorsements to the following slate of candidates in the May 19 Primary Election:
Pendleton City Council
For the Pendleton City Council’s Ward 3 race, we recommend voters send Dale Primmer back for another term.
Primmer has done an admirable job in his service so far, and his experience and knowledge of city issues shone through during our interview of the council candidates. He works hard to fairly represent the citizens he has been elected to serve, and has been able to work well with those who he doesn’t always agree with. Pendleton will benefit from drawing on that experience for another term.
We had a tough choice before us in the race for the open seat representing Ward 2, and we hope to see both Sally Brandsen and Melissa Shumake continue their involvement in the community in the future. However, we’re going to endorse Brandsen for the position.
We have been impressed by Brandsen’s energy and passion for Pendleton displayed in projects, such as Dancing with Your Pendleton Stars, which under her management has raised tens of thousands of dollars for Pendleton nonprofits. We think that vision, creativity and drive will be put to good use on the city council.
Umatilla County Board of Commissioners
In a field of five candidates to replace Umatilla County Commissioner Bill Elfering, we believe Dan Dorran is the best choice.
Dorran’s assertion he is a “day one candidate” who could hit the ground running rings true. He is a longtime county resident who can speak knowledgeably and in depth about issues facing the county, and he comes with a long list of endorsements from many of the people he would be working with on a regular basis. He comes from a business background, but also has experience serving on boards and committees, including decades of involvement with the Umatilla County Fair.
Some elected positions are more about big-picture policy decisions, but county commissioners are paid administrators. Dorran would provide a steady hand on the wheel.
House District 58
Democrats: We admit whoever wins the Democratic primary has a steep uphill climb to win the seat currently held by Rep. Greg Barreto, R-Cove. The Pendleton area hasn’t been represented by a Democrat in the Oregon House since Rep. Bob Jenson won his first race in 1996 (Jenson was a Democrat at that time, but switched parties to become an Independent in 1998, and then a Republican in 1999). However, we believe voters should give a political newcomer, Nolan Bylenga, a chance to break the Republican stranglehold on the district.
Bylenga, who is running against Barbara Wright, 68, is a political science major at Portland State University who wants the state to do more to help low-income families and find a way to bring down health care costs, although he wasn’t committed to a particular policy.
The Pendleton High School graduate’s youth and relative inexperience is a drawback, but his support of the Second Amendment and goal of keeping small businesses from being overtaxed earn our support. We encourage you to send Bylenga on to run against Republican Bobby Levy in the November primary.
2nd Congressional District
Republicans: Oregon State Sen. Cliff Bentz should be the Republican nominee to replace retiring Congressman Greg Walden. We agree with Bentz on many key issues.
There’s little doubt Bentz would be a solid representative. He knows rural Oregon. He was a reflective voice in the Legislature. Even when he wasn’t doing his homework for his job as a legislator, he was always reading something to enrich his understanding. That is always a good sign.
Republicans have dominated the 2nd Congressional District in Congress and may continue to do so. We applaud Bentz’s commitment to be a voice for the entire district. Please support him in the Republican primary.
Democrats: Picking a candidate to endorse in the May primary for the Democratic nominee to replace Walden is a close call. We believe you should support Alex Spenser.
Spenser, 55, would like to see more tuition assistance to help people go to college. She wants infrastructure spending to build up green energy capacity, rural broadband and high-speed rail. She has been on the Oregon Health Plan and she hopes every American would have the security of a similar option.
What is striking about Spenser, 55, of Klamath Falls, is the emphasis she puts on healing the divisiveness in the country. None of the other candidates spoke about it with such conviction. We can’t say she would succeed in bridging partisan divides in Congress, but she would sincerely try.
This measure authorizes the Pendleton School District to continue to levy property tax at a rate of $0.40 per $1,000 assessed valuation each year beginning July 1 for five consecutive years. We realize many people are advocates of letting the tax fade into the sunset. But we believe education isn’t free and the measure, which raises $300,000 a year for the district, will go a long way toward helping the district, which will permanently lose enrollment because of the COVID-19 pandemic, operate at its present level of service. Students will migrate toward online options and that’s a challenge. This is a time when the district will need to step up and provide options that online schools can’t provide. We believe voters should support this measure so the district can continue to offer a comprehensive educational program or maintain current staffing levels that allow for reasonable student-to-staff ratios across the district.
Voters in Echo, East Umatilla County and Helix also have rural fire protection district measures on their ballots. We highly encourage residents within those boundaries to look closely at those measures and give them serious consideration.