County Commission Races Offer Serious Choices

By Peter Toll

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Jim Bernard

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Ken Humberston

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Martha Schrader

Hardworking Clackamas County Democrats can share the credit for success in key local non-partisan primary election races as they gear up for the fall. Here’s a brief look at the results and some key campaign issues.

COUNTY CHAIR—Democrat Jim Bernard was the leader with 36% of the votes. Incumbent GOP stalwart John Ludlow had 29%. Paul Savas had 21% and Dan Holladay got 12%. That means Bernard will face Ludlow head-to-head in November. Savas (of whom Ludlow once asked, “Do you want a piece of me?”) remains on the board while Holladay stays mayor of Oregon City.

Update: Bernard reports Holladay, only elected mayor last year, has pledged to support Bernard in the general election.

COUNTY COMMISSION POS. 3 – Incumbent Martha Schrader amassed 52% to win re-election outright. Her chief opponent, Ludlow protégé Steve Bates was next with 36% and newcomer Jenifer Valley got 11%. Bates ran against Bernard two years ago and nearly beat him. Schrader’s victory should send him packing. Valley’s entry was a late surprise.

COUNTY COMMISSION POS. 4 – Republican firebrand Tootie Smith almost won re-election. Instead, she’ll face Democrat Ken Humberston who came a strong second. Sandy mayor Bill King was in third place. Smith and Ludlow are hand-in-glove when it comes to feisty personalities, short-sighted county policies, and hauling in tons of campaign money from developers.

Humberston, who helped bring peace to the once embittered and combative Clackamas River Water board, faces an uphill but doable slog to overcome Smith’s edge between now and November.

Choices are clear. Bernard and Humberston could join with Schrader in enacting a positive agenda. Consider these issues:

Light rail — TriMet’s Orange Line into Milwaukie, which Ludlow fought relentlessly (while Bernard encouraged it), is a resounding success. There are more light rail opportunities afoot for the county — Milwaukie to Oregon City, Clackamas to West Linn, just to name a couple. Ludlow and Smith would quash it all now. (Maybe they’ve never experienced jammed up McLoughlin Boulevard at rush hour.)

Humberston argues that a broad-based transportation plan is essential to carry out commerce in the county and attract new business.

Golf course into industrial hub — This is Ludlow’s baby. Ditto Tootie Smith. With huge financial backing from the Maletis brothers, who own Langdon Farms golf course just south of Wilsonville, they are turning land use law into a nightmare. The brothers have expanded their scheme from 400-odd acres of the golf course and grounds to 1,200 acres on both sides of I-5. The land is now zoned rural agricultural, a situation most neighbors (including the City of Wilsonville) favor. Friends of French Prairie also wants it unchanged.

So does Bernard. He points out the county already has some 1,400 acres of zoned industrial land ready to go. He voted ‘no’ when Ludlow, Tootie and Savas voted to spend $500,000 of county money on a ‘study’ to examine the locale in depth and detail. Ludlow and Smith tried an end run around the law by finding a Coos Bay legislator to introduce legislation authorizing the change. Smarter legislators, in the majority this time, stopped them in their tracks.

When asked about the situation, Humberston replied: “Where does it say a person buys a piece of land knowing what the allowable uses and zoning are and then tries to turn them upside-down?” He shares Bernard’s view.

Costly lawsuits — Ludlow and Tootie are sending county historians to the record books to see if any other elected local officials in the county (or state, for that matter) have cost their jurisdiction more money in litigation and settlements. In 41 months in office, the expenses borne by Clackamas County taxpayers due to direct malfeasance and bad behavior by Ludlow and Tootie exceed $1.5 million. From their first day in office, when they single-handedly fired the county’s chief executive officer, to on-the-job homophobic-related ugliness, not to mention a wide range of other charges, these two are their own fiscal disaster.

Adding insult to injury, they requested that the county bail them out on the resulting personal legal bills, out of the taxpayer’s pocket. Their fellow commissioners reluctantly agreed to a minor monetary concession.

Fighting Metro — When first elected in 2012 on their “Stop Portland Creep” (whatever that is) mantra, Ludlow and Tootie have held up Metro, the multi-county regional government, as the giant ogre of the Northwest. Clackamas County is practically persona non grata at Metro these days as Ludlow steadfastly refuses to cooperate with this wide-ranging agency. That means Clackamas County is shut out when regional transportation, parks or similar planning/implementation grants are distributed. One notable exception is the Oregon City-Willamette Falls redesign project.

Clackamas County is the laughingstock of the state, and therein lies the heart of the campaign. Ludlow and Tootie dislike government. That can explain their lack of success in office. Now is certainly the time to put someone in office who understands government and can improve people’s lives.