A flurry of candidates filed to run for Wallowa County Commissioner over the last two weeks following the death of Commissioner- elect Bruce Dunn.
In order to fill the position for the November general election, the county was granted an expedited candidacy filing period by the Oregon Secretary of State just days after Dunn’s death.
Dunn won the non-partisan race against Diane Daggett in May and was to be sworn in at the Wallowa County Commissioners’ Jan. 7 meeting. He died of a heart attack Aug. 21 while touring a timber harvest unit associated with the Lower Joseph Creek Restoration Project.
Dunn’s former opponent is one of four candidates who filed to run before the Sept. 4 deadline. The Joseph native said as commissioner she would focus on protecting the constitutional rights of Wallowa County residents.
“I would protect our right to free speech, and if there are initiatives that would threaten the Second Amendment, I would fight those,” Daggett said.
A firm believer in maintaining the county’s natural resource-based economy, she said she sees most of the threats coming from the outside.
“The Forest Service is not investing in our assets, and special interest groups are challenging active management,” Daggett said.
A realtor and proponent of protecting the rights of private property owners, Daggett referenced her experience as the county’s planning director in the 1990s during a time when scenic values and endangered species became part of the county’s land use code.
“I have already proven I am against over-development,” she said
Dan DeBoie is also a Joseph native and a former Wallowa County Commissioner. When asked about his goals for Wallowa County, he reflected on driving through towns and small cities throughout the West — some overdeveloped and unrecognizable while others had boarded up shops downtown.
“We need to have a vibrant enough economy to give our kids the opportunity to come back and make a living, but not change the nature of the county so much we don’t recognize it,” DeBoie said.
When it comes to the role of county government, DeBoie said he sees the commissioners’ job is to communicate with other agencies and to act a convener -- whether it’s a group working on natural resource issues, social concerns or economic development.
DeBoie suggested the commission could improve communication with the public by enhancing the county’s website, publishing blogs and providing webcasts of public meetings online.
Cliff Walters has lived in Wallowa County for 25 years and describes himself as the most conservative of the candidates. Before retiring as the shop foreman at Summit Ford in Enterprise, Walters worked for the Oregon Department of Corrections and United Airlines.
An avid hunter and member of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Friends of the National Rifle Association and the Eagle Cap Shooters Association, he taught hunter’s safety and trained instructors and also served as the area coordinator for Malheur, Baker, Union and Wallowa counties.
Walters said as commissioner he would fight for important forest issues and against further road closures.
“I care about local farmers and ranchers and responsible forest management,” he said.
A supporter of a limited government, Walters said he believes in protecting the unborn, elderly and veterans.
John Hillock said he he has been toying with the idea of running for commissioner for 10 years. The Chief Joseph Days director who volunteers his time as an electrician to everything from rodeos to Ferguson Ridge Ski Area said he has always had a passion to do good things.
The time is right now to run for commissioner, he said, because his business, Enterprise Electric, is well situated to hand down to the next generation. His father bought the company in 1969 and in that time the business grew from a father and son operation to a company with nine employees and a new shop and office that recently opened on Hurricane Creek Road.
In the 1980s, Hillock said, he was involved with the Wallowa County Economic Development Corporation that attracted private investors to different local businesses. That experience whetted his appetite for economic development. It was during that time that he and his father started bidding on every state and federal job available in the county, providing some economic development of their own.
“We were always competitive with the out of town bidders who had to pay travel,” Hillock said.
Over the years Enterprise Electric was involved with a number of water, sewer and city light projects and brought in more than a million dollars in tax credits with solar power installations.
Hillock, who is passionate about civic work and economic development, said he was asked to run for the county commissioner seat.
“Part of the reason I am running is because the phone was ringing off the hook,” he said.