At noon on Friday, KLCC hosted a candidate forum for the East Lane County Commissioner race. Incumbent Faye Stewart and challengers Joann Ernst, Jose Ortal, and Kevin Matthews answered questions from KLCC listeners and local leaders.
Candidates gave opening statements, then took questions. Issues ranged from rural homelessness to public safety and discrimination laws. Some candidates were prepared with scripts. Everyone was able to answer questions completely in the one-minute response time.
Kevin Matthews, a Dexter-based magazine editor, was first to comment on the controversial redistricting of East Lane County after the 2010 census:
Matthews: "When the conservative commissioner majority voted to spend tens of thousands of dollars of county money on an unnecessary redistricting, they took what had classically been a kind of a pure rural district in East Lane County and added the Churchill neighborhood of west Eugene."
Jose Ortal, a business consultant from Blue River, had a stronger opinion on the issue:
Ortal: "I would posit that what happened in 2010-2011 is not redistricting. It’s called gerrymandering. Insofar as the actual redistricting is concerned, it was done for no other reason than to make East Lane County much more habitable for a Republican to win."
Ortal also contended Commissioner Stewart voted for the redistricting after he was asked by the Cottage Grove Chamber of Commerce to vote against it.
Joann Ernst, a former EWEB Commissioner, also mentioned Stewart's vote against the advice of the Cottage Grove Chamber. She said redistricting cost the county in other ways:
Ernst: "The conservative commissioners went and bought a new type of software that was used in other areas to redistrict, to put the advantage for Republicans. And as taxpayers we paid for that new software."
Incumbent Faye Stewart argued the County Administrator bought the software. On the redistricting itself, he said census counts provide an opportunity for assessment. He said the goal is to have five districts with similar populations. In this case, the districts were within tolerances. Stewart clarified:
Stewart: "Our charter states that the Springfield Commissioner was to represent the Springfield citizens and the E. Lane County district represented nearly 7 thousand constituents in the Springfield city limits that should have been represented by the Springfield commissioner."
County Commissioner positions are non partisan, four-year jobs. In order to win on May 20th, a candidate must have over 50 percent of the vote. If that doesn't happen, the top two candidates will face off in November.