Election season has begun in Clatsop County.
Nearly 20 races have been solidified after Tuesday’s filing deadline. With 10 weeks left before the Nov. 6 election, an influx of campaign signs, advertisements and stump speeches are coming.
“In the summer, your voters check out. They’re just not invested in information that much compared to what they’re going to be come, you know, the fall,” Justin Stranzl, a senior associate at Portland-based architecture firm DLR Group, told Clatsop County commissioners at a work session last spring.
Stranzl discussed how to best promote a $20 million bond to move the county jail from Astoria to the former North Coast Youth Correctional Facility in Warrenton. DLR Group has designed the potential new jail, and Stranzl has advised several local governments on bond measures.
Stranzl spoke about the need to expose voters to the jail, provide accessible and digestible information, highlight why it is needed and the consequences of failure, hold regular community discussions, expand outside of cities and begin campaigning in late August or early September. One key component he stressed several times was that elected county officials must drive the bond.
“This is your bond measure. Ultimately, the story has to be yours,” Stranzl said.
For the jail bond, the story is Sheriff Tom Bergin. He is putting the finishing touches on a political action committee — Vote Yes for Safe Streets — and has scheduled presentations at city council meetings throughout the county for the second half of September and early October. Signs and media advertisements are in the works.
Lt. Matt Phillips, the jail commander, and Chief Deputy Sheriff Paul Williams will help Bergin with presentations. In his time with the sheriff’s office, Bergin has been involved with two unsuccessful jail bonds, including one as the county’s top cop in 2012.
Bergin has also taken a leading role in supporting Measure 105, which would repeal Oregon’s sanctuary law. The sheriff released a letter Monday with 15 other sheriffs urging voters to approve the ballot measure in November. Bergin’s move could hamper efforts to pass the jail bond, said Commissioner Scott Lee, the board’s chairman.
“I think absolutely it complicates things. Some of these folks are going to walk away simply because of this controversial position he’s taken,” Lee said. “I’m disappointed. Really, I am. I’ve always been against this measure.”
Bergin said the two issues are distinct and that the feedback he’s received has been largely positive.
“I just don’t see the correlation. I know it may upset some, sure, but I also know there’s a silent majority out there,” Bergin said. “I’m not a fence walker. You have to pick a side, stick with it and do what you believe is best for this community.”
A new jail could be easier to sell this time around because it involves a remodel rather than a brand-new facility, Bergin said. He plans to start the campaign off at a lighter pace before pressing the issue more regularly closer to November.
“We know the target groups,” Bergin said. “When you’re connected with the community and the voters, you don’t have to take these giant steps to reach out to people.”
County staff can’t endorse or oppose candidates or ballot measures while at work. Each county commissioner has advocated for the new jail whenever the topic arises, but they are largely delegating promotional efforts to the sheriff.
“We had good support from the board,” Lee said. “I think the sheriff said he is going to take the lead there. We’ve done a much better job already of promoting the jail than the other time around.”
Commissioner Lianne Thompson agreed that the sheriff should lead the effort. She said she is not actively campaigning for the bond, but wishes the commission had a more concerted approach.
“It’s kind of like one of those movies where each one is pointing at the other and saying, ‘Who’s going to take the lead?’” Thompson said. “I’ll do what I can, but I’m not the boss of things.”
Aside from voters who fear a tax increase and disapprove of adding jail beds, the bond has a number of other things to contend with. Bonds for $70 million in renovations to Astoria schools, $38.5 million for the Warrenton-Hammond School District and $20 million for an expansion of the Sunset Empire Park and Recreation District’s pool and fitness center in Seaside will also be on the ballot.
“I think that’s going to be a real issue for you,” Stranzl told county commissioners last spring. “Ideally your voters can look at it and make a decision to compartmentalize these two school bond measures.”
County officials may also have to deal with disgruntled hoteliers and city leaders. Despite heated opposition from some hotel owners, commissioners passed a 1 percent lodging tax increase in the county to offset operations costs at a potential new jail. The decision irked members of the Cannon Beach City Council, who bemoaned that they were not consulted prior to the vote.
Lee and Bergin downplayed the potential impact of the lodging tax.
“My perception was that it shows the county was committed to funding this without putting all the money on taxpayers,” Lee said.
Thompson, who represents South County, is not so sure.
“I think it doesn’t bode well that the Cannon Beach City Council was not happy that it was not included in the discussion,” she said.
Adding to the unpredictability is the other political races that may influence voters in November.
A potentially competitive governor’s race between Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, and state Rep. Knute Buehler, a Republican, could help drive voter turnout across the state.
On the North Coast, Democrat Tiffiny Mitchell will face Republican Vineeta Lower and Independent Brian Halvorsen to replace retiring state Rep. Deborah Boone in state House District 32.
In the first runoff election for county commission in a decade, Pamela Wev, a land use consultant, and Peter Roscoe, a former restaurateur and Astoria city councilor, will square off for the District 3 seat that covers central Astoria, Lewis and Clark and other communities to the west.
Astoria City Councilor Bruce Jones, Dulcye Taylor, the president of the Astoria Downtown Historic District Association, and Michael Miller, an activist, are running to be Astoria’s next mayor.
Astoria will also have two City Council seats on the ballot. Joan Herman, an Astoria planning commissioner and radio programmer, and Ron Zilli, a longtime state forester, are vying for the downtown Ward 3 seat being vacated by City Councilor Cindy Price. In the west side’s Ward 1, David Drafall, a hairdresser, will face Roger Rocka, former director of the Astoria-Warrenton Area Chamber of Commerce, to replace City Councilor Zetty Nemlowill.
In Seaside, Mayor Jay Barber is being challenged by radio station owner John Chapman.
Predicting how voter interest in these races might impact the jail bond is a fool’s game, Lee said. “This is not a normal election cycle. People are crossing party lines for various reasons.”
Toward the end of the next 10 weeks, though, the answer should become clearer.
“You should feel good on Election Day that it’s going to pass,” Stranzl said last spring. “If November rolls around and you don’t think your bond’s going to pass, it’s not going to pass.”
• U.S. House District 1: U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D; John Verbeek, R; Drew Layda, L
• Governor: Gov. Kate Brown, D; state Rep. Knute Buehler, R
• State House District 32: Tiffiny Mitchell, D; Vineeta Lower, R; Brian Halvorsen, I
• Clatsop County Board of Commissioners, District 3: Pamela Wev, Peter Roscoe
• Astoria mayor: City Councilor Bruce Jones, Dulcye Taylor, Michael Miller
• Astoria City Council, Ward 1: David Drafall, Roger Rocka
• Astoria City Council, Ward 3: Joan Herman, Ron Zilli
• Warrenton mayor: Henry Balensifer, John Washington
• Warrenton City Commission, Position 4: Commissioner Rick Newton
• Seaside mayor: Mayor Jay Barber, John Chapman
• Seaside City Council, Ward 1: City Councilor Steve Wright
• Seaside City Council, Ward 2: City Councilor Tita Montero
• Seaside City Council, Wards 3 and 4: City Councilor Dana Phillips
• Cannon Beach mayor: Mayor Sam Steidel
• Cannon Beach City Council, at large: City Councilor Mike Benefield, Robin Risley, Greg Swedenborg
• Gearhart City Council, Position 1: City Councilor Kerry Smith, Jack Zimmerman
• Gearhart City Council, Position 3: City Councilor Paulina Cockrum
• $20 million for new Clatsop County Jail
• $70 million for Astoria School District
• $38.5 million for Warrenton-Hammond School District
• $20 million for Sunset Empire Park and Recreation District
• 3 percent marijuana retail tax in unincorporated areas
• 3 percent marijuana retail tax in Gearhart