The League of Women Voters put four of the five candidates for the Position 1 seat on the Benton County Board of Commissioners through their paces Wednesday night in a forum at the Corvallis-Benton County Public Library.
Independent Party candidate Sami Al-AbdRabbuh, Pacific Green hopeful Tim Dehne, Democratic nominee Pat Malone and unaffiliated candidate Max Mania took part in the event, which was attended by more than 100 people. Erik Gradine, the Libertarian nominee, was away on a business trip and did not participate.
With a forum for legislative candidates also on the bill, the format was fast-paced, with commissioner candidates getting just 90 seconds for opening statements and a minute to answer each question.
In opening remarks, Corvallis School Board member Al-AbdRabbuh touted his relative youth and said he would work to address climate change, homelessness, affordable housing and economic development.
Malone, the oldest candidate on the ballot, cited his experience as a tree farmer and rural fire district chief and said he would push for more long-term planning, better disaster preparedness and strong environmental protections.
Mania pointed to his work in arts organizations and community activism and his stint as a city councilor in Port Angeles, Washington, where he helped manage a $120 million annual budget and worked to curb pollution from a local mill.
Dehne noted this was his fourth run for a commissioner’s seat and said homelessness is the biggest issue facing the county, calling for a year-round shelter, tiny houses scattered throughout Corvallis and rules allowing people to live in RVs.
Moderator Ann Smart started by asking the candidates what values would guide their decisions on land use cases.
Malone noted that Oregon’s land use framework was the result of work done by an Albany farmer and said, as a farmer himself, “land use isn’t a theoretical issue to me.” He also said he testified in favor of a bill to keep a resort from being built on the Metolius River.
Mania said his philosophy would be to “do the least harm possible” and “the most good feasible” and said land use decisions should ensure a good future for our children.
Dehne said people need to “leave room for nature” and should look for ways to “stop being cancers on the earth.”
Al-AbdRabbuh said land use decisions must be sustainable, must recognize that there is limited land available and should be made by bringing people together.
The candidates also were asked how they would balance rural interests with the needs of the Corvallis urban area.
Mania said he would protect farmers and listen to rural residents.
“I realize you’re elected as county commissioner, not Corvallis commissioner,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of Corvallis-centric leadership at the county, and county-centric leadership is what we need.”
Dehne said the county has six advisory committees representing different geographic areas but only three are currently active. “I’d like to see all six active and the county commissioners listen to them,” he said.
Al-AbdRabbuh said farming is critical to the county’s economy and that he would work to ensure all stakeholder groups have seats on county committees. “I want to make sure the representation is there,” he said.
Malone alluded to his long career operating a tree farm and his years of service on various county boards and committees.
“In some ways I’ve been preparing for this position for most of my adult life,” he said. “It’s kind of like a final exam, and some people try to prepare the night before the test.”
The candidates tackled 10 questions in all, on a variety of topics. A few sample responses:
On how to address water scarcity: Dehne and Mania thought the county should expand on a pilot program near Alpine that monitors well use to gather data on the quantity and quality of the local groundwater supply. Al-AbdRabbuh and Malone thought a regional approach was needed.
On whether to allow aerial spraying of pesticides: Mania said it would depend on circumstances but advocated a shift to organic agriculture. Dehne said he had been the victim of spraying on a camping trip and wants to ban the practice. Al-AbdRabbuh said spraying can have unintended consequences and should be discussed. Malone said spraying is just one tool available for agricultural management but that it needs to be closely regulated.
On climate change: All the candidates agreed the issue is real and needs to be addressed. Al-AbdRabbuh said there’s a lot the county can do and that efforts to limit county government’s carbon footprint are a step in the right direction. Malone said, “I’ve got an idea: Why don’t we all plant trees?” and noted he’s been a tree farmer for more than 30 years. Mania said he believes he’s the only candidate in the race who has laid out a detailed plan to fight climate change, calling for measures such as expanded public transit, energy efficiency mandates for new development and building a new jail, which would reduce fuel use for transporting inmates. Dehne said people need to take individual actions to reduce their own carbon footprints and that if “we start mandating, we’re going to have a lot blowback from that.”