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County commissioner candidates speak at forum

By Sean Hart

Blue Mountain Eagle

Published on April 26, 2016 6:34PM

The Eagle/Sean HartCounty Commissioner Chris Labhart, left, listens as his challenger in his bid for re-election, Prairie City Mayor Jim Hamsher, right, speaks during a candidate forum Saturday.

The Eagle/Sean HartCounty Commissioner Chris Labhart, left, listens as his challenger in his bid for re-election, Prairie City Mayor Jim Hamsher, right, speaks during a candidate forum Saturday.

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Editor’s note: This article covers the county commissioner position on the May primary ballot. The remaining positions will be covered in next week’s Eagle.

Candidates vying for positions in the May primary explained their platforms at a forum sponsored by the Mt. Vernon Grange Saturday.

Positions up for election in May include county commissioner No. 2, treasurer, assessor, surveyor and six Public Forest Commission seats.

Assessor candidate David Thunell is running unopposed, as is surveyor candidate Mike Springer.

Both candidates for commissioner No. 2, incumbent Chris Labhart and Prairie City Mayor Jim Hamsher, spoke at the forum, along with all four treasurer candidates, Doug Carpenter, Julie Ellison, Tandi Merkord and Mary Weaver. Most of the forest commission candidates spoke as well.

County commissioner No. 2

Labhart said he graduated from Grant Union in 1968, where he returned for a 28-year teaching career after his 10-year reunion.

He said job retention, veterans, seniors and health care are his priorities.

Seniors comprise more than 25 percent of the county’s population, he said, adding he has visited every senior center. He said there are more than 700 veterans in the county, and he has been working to increase the hours of the veterans service officer position.

“Grant County is a great place to call home,” Labhart said, adding people should work together to improve it.

Hamsher said his family moved to the area in the 1800s and he has lived here his whole life.

He said, if elected, he would hold town halls, listen to the people and act according to the majority’s wishes.

Hamsher said he wants to see the county survive and thrive. He said he would try to remove hurdles faced by small businesses to spur the economy, provide jobs for younger people and combat the shrinking population.

“The status quo isn’t working,” he said.

He said the Association of Oregon Counties does not represent the rural counties of Eastern Oregon and that he would try to start an association that incorporated rural counties in Idaho, Utah, Nevada and Oregon.

In the next round, Labhart said there is actually an Association of Eastern Oregon Counties and he is a member. He said he plays an active role on steering committees and at a variety of meetings.

Labhart said he was the only member of the Grant County Court who stated he believed an investigation of the Canyon Creek Complex fire was warranted, though he said it should not be funded with county resources.

Hamsher said he believed the Association of Eastern Oregon Counties was too small to have leverage to influence policy. He said it was important for local and state officials to push hard for change in Salem and Washington, D.C.

He said he wanted to heal the wounds in the community. He said he was a man of action, who would get things done for the people. He touted the Hay for John Day program he spearheaded to provide food for livestock after the fire.

Asked about his greatest accomplishments, Hamsher said the Prairie City City Council was once fractured, but he helped usher in an era of cohesiveness.

Labhart said his greatest accomplishments included the establishment of the industrial park in John Day. He reiterated his goals of creating jobs, providing services for seniors and maintaining quality health care facilities. He said, when he was on the hospital board, they implemented a recruitment program targeting medical students that has attracted doctors to Grant County.

Hamsher said he too would focus on jobs, health care, seniors and veterans. He said he would also focus on public lands management. He said he would treat people with respect to try to come together for something mutually advantageous for the entire county.

He said federal policies often make life difficult for everyone here, but he suggested a different path.

“The infighting we’ve been doing hasn’t been working,” Hamsher said.

Labhart said, in the past, county residents have put divisive feelings aside to come together as a community. He said recent events have led to threats, harassment and vulgar messages on his answering machine.

“We don’t need outside people telling us what to do,” he said. “We can solve our own problems.”


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