Two candidates face off this fall for the Grant County commissioner seat formerly held by Boyd Britton. The Grant County Court appointed attorney Rob Raschio interim commissioner on July 3 to fill out the remainder of Britton’s term.
With a 65.8 percent turnout in a six-way May primary election, Sam Palmer received 42 percent of the vote and Gordon Larson received 34 percent, moving both on to the November election.
Larson, 54, of Canyon City grew up on a dairy farm in Scappoose. He was serving in the National Guard when he was recruited by the Oregon State Police in 1987. Larson retired from OSP in 2014 after serving on a gang strike force and a multi-state drug task force, as outpost commander in John Day and as regional commander based in La Grande. He served on the Grant School District 3 board for 12 years, 10 years as chairman. He now runs a ranch south of Canyon City.
Larson said he’s been campaigning hard across the county. All communities matter and bring value to the effort to bring prosperity to the county, but residents in outlying communities feel they lack a voice in the county court, he said. He suggested having a representative from these communities address every other county court meeting over speakerphone to inform the court about infrastructure issues.
The legal settlement in lawsuits involving Sheriff Glenn Palmer are water under the bridge now, Larson said. Hopefully, the parties learned something about public process and those kinds of cases can be avoided in the future, he said. It’s the obligation of elected officials to operate within best-practices guidelines so they can better serve their communities, he said.
Larson said the county is better served by relying on a number of highly qualified agencies and individuals for context on natural resource issues rather than appoint new committees. If elected, he might be open to hiring a natural resource advisor, but the role would need to be carefully crafted to avoid any special agendas, he said.
Joining the Grant County Digital Network Coalition was the right thing for the county, Larson said. In order for all communities to thrive, they must have access to modern technology, including broadband internet and cellphone service.
The county road department is an effectively run operation with the capacity to accomplish large tasks, Larson said. The county should find ways to assist communities in maintaining their roads through intergovernmental agreements or memorandums of understanding. The county did the right thing in accumulating a large road fund, but the county must be careful about how it uses that fund and exercise due diligence. It should not be regarded as a go-to fund, he said.
The divisiveness in Grant County has made campaigning a very difficult process, but he’s an optimistic person and bullish on the county, Larson said. Most people who live here choose to live here because it’s a safe and livable place, with great vistas and numerous outdoor recreational opportunities, he said.
But the county needs to support that environment by promoting broadband, lobbying the state to improve highway bottlenecks that limit truck loads and lengths and ensuring that the federal forest lands remain open to all users, from hikers to grazers.
Sam Palmer, 53, of John Day was born and raised in John Day and is a graduate of Grant Union High School and Blue Mountain Community College.
He’s been a registered nurse for 30 years and worked both locally and around the U.S. in “frontier medicine,” including a stint as a flight nurse in Las Vegas. He works several days a week in Burns and will retire soon.
Palmer said he’s been traveling around the county meeting with people. He said he turned down an invitation from the Grant County Chamber of Commerce to debate Larson because the chosen date conflicted with chemotherapy training sessions he had arranged long ago. In any event, ballots would have already been mailed out by the time the debate took place, he said.
Palmer said people have asked him to take on so many issues that he’s turned to prioritizing them. He said he’s focused on “knowns,” such as forest management, the economy, funding schools and funding jobs.
Management of national forest lands is a major concern for Palmer, and he blames federal management for wildfires. He said he put himself through college fighting fires when they were typically 1,000 acres in size. Now fires range up to 100,000 acres and are killing people, he said.
Private landowners don’t manage their property by closing access, and they reduce forest fuels by cutting timber and grazing, Palmer said. The county court should invoke coordination rules to give the county a voice in federal land management at the local level, he said.
Palmer strongly supports the idea of establishing a natural resource adviser position with the county. He said it’s not a question of whether to establish the position but how to fund it. As for a proposed water resource advisory committee, Palmer said he needs to learn more about it.
The county needs to return to its roots to improve the economy: timber and agriculture. Palmer said he’s been working on some small business development ideas that involve agriculture and will create “a lot of new jobs,” but it was too early to announce any details. Palmer said he’s a fiscal conservative but believes people should earn a living wage. At the same time, people need to live within their budget.
Palmer said he supports the county joining the Grant County Digital Network Coalition to improve internet access. On the other hand, he said he’s not sure how he would have voted on the county’s new 911 dispatch service because he didn’t participate in the discussions from the very beginning to ensure the result was fair for county taxpayers.
He noted that residents in northwest Grant County around Monument and Long Creek feel “out of sight, out of mind,” and he said he’d like to set up a liaison position to represent these residents and report to the court on a quarterly basis. Cellphone service needs to be improved in the area as a matter of public safety, he said.