March 15, 2001 11:00 pm

Democracy is alive and well in our part of Oregon if Tuesdays election is any indication.

It was good to see so many candidates file for the special elections that decided positions on school boards, education service districts, rural fire departments, water and sanitation districts and cemetery boards.

Sometimes in the past, only one candidate has filed for a particular board. And in some cases, citizens have not bothered to run for a board opening at all. Those seats have gone unfilled until directors met to make an appointment.

But positions going begging was not the case throughout Union County in Tuesdays election. Janine Robinson, for example, deeply believes that the La Grande School District should pull out the stops to help its children become better readers. Robinson took on Shari Bennett, a longtime school board member. Bennett won the race, but Robinson had a good campaign and should consider making another bid for the board some time in the future.

Three candidates surfaced to try to capture retiring director Pasco Arritolas seat on the La Grande School Board. Steve Joseph, known for speaking his mind as a La Grande city councilor in the 90s, will have a chance to take his tough questioning style to the school board. Joseph won the race 1,064 to 1,030 over Boyd Rasmussen, a Union County deputy sheriff, while youth corrections specialist Jim Mollerstrom finished strong with 957 votes.

Other contested races in the county included two positions on the Union-Baker Education Service District. Incumbent Thelma Hansen defeated two contenders while Bob Wiles narrowly defeated Ray Stinnett. The contested races extended to other places such as Imbler, where Pamela Glenn edged out two others in a race for position 4 on the school board.

Even a race for the Union Cemetery Maintenance District board was no sleeper. Supporters of incumbent Sidney Huffman generated more letters to the editor in The Observer prior to the election than any other candidate. The letters appeared to help. Huffman won the race easily.

The interest that candidates showed in local races in Tuesdays election is refreshing. Those who came up short on votes should not be viewed as losers. These citizens were willing to stick their necks out, take some risk and run for positions that have no financial rewards. All of the candidates were winners since they provided a choice for voters and, in some cases, a spirited debate.

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