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John Howard, left, and John Lamoreau debated county issues Thursday night at McKenzie Theatre in Loso Hall. The debate was sponsored by KCMB and Eastern Oregon University. (The Observer/PHIL BULLOCK).
John Howard, left, and John Lamoreau debated county issues Thursday night at McKenzie Theatre in Loso Hall. The debate was sponsored by KCMB and Eastern Oregon University. (The Observer/PHIL BULLOCK).

By Ray Linker

Observer Staff Writer

Union County Commissioner John Howard touted his 16 years of experience on the job, and challenger John Lamoreau said he would bring a fresh perspective as a business person to the position if elected.

Howard, a Democrat, and Lamoreau, a Republican, took part in a debate in McKenzie Theatre on the Eastern Oregon campus Thursday night.

Lamoreau, administrator at the Grande Ronde Retirement Residence, is seeking to prevent Howard from being returned to office for his fifth four-year term in the Nov. 5 election.

In response to questions from three panelists, Howard told the audience of about 100 that as commissioner he has worked successfully to bring in more state and federal money to the county. He has the respect of both major parties, nationally and in the state, he said.

Lamoreau said he was honored to be supported by Republican congressmen Greg Walden and Gordon Smith, chastised Gov. John Kitzhaber's attempt to eliminate some services for senior citizens, and said, "I do have a vision for Union County."

The county made commissioner positions a full-time job about five years ago. Panelists asked whether the position should remain full time.

"It's a full-time job," Howard said. "I couldn't do the things I've done otherwise. It takes an effort to be successful. Being part-time would limit how effective you could be."

Lamoreau said it could be full- time but if it were part-time, pay for the position should be cut.

"I will do what I need to to get the job done. An eight-hour day is not in my rule plan."

Howard defended the county's participation in the purchase of the Joseph line railroad and in taking over Union's Buffalo Peak Golf Course. Lamoreau said the golf course should be in private hands or at least a private-public combination. He said the railroad did not have a single client and defaulting on the line would send a very negative message to any prospective businesses seeking to locate in Union County.

Both weighed in on the issue of a planned Wal-Mart superstore across Island Avenue from the present store. The candidates agreed the store should stay where it is now and not enlarge.

Howard said the three biggest issues facing the county are the uncertainty of the state budget and the effect it will have on the county, working to market the golf course and the Joseph rail line and public safety issues, including finding a way to preserve the jobs of two county sheriff's deputies.

Lamoreau agreed there is the need to maintain the deputies' jobs and said that the county roads need attention, including sealing to eliminate dust. More education on drugs is also needed, he said.

The Observer will publish interviews with each of the two commissioner candidates next week.

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