Ron Jacobs won the Republican primary race May 19, defeating incumbent Larry Wilson and challenger Jim Mendiola. (The Enterprise/File).
VALE – Malheur County Republican voters delivered a clear message in the wake of the May 19 primary election – they weren’t satisfied with County Commissioner Larry Wilson’s performance and wanted a change.
Wilson collected just 990 votes, or 26%, while former state water master Ron Jacobs won the race with 1,446 votes – or 38% of total votes in Tuesday’s primary election. Vale contractor Jim Mendiola finished second in the race with 1,342 votes, or 35%.
The contest for the commissioner position was the only local contested race on the primary ballot. County Judge Dan Joyce and Commissioner Don Hodge, who along with Wilson make up the Malheur County Court, weren’t up for re-election.
Wilson, a veteran local lawmaker, staked his political fortunes on the completion of a controversial $26 million rail reload facility planned north of Nyssa.
Wilson, who is an Ontario real estate agent, has served as Malheur County commissioner since 2013. He also serves on the board of the Malheur Memorial Health District in Nyssa and served about 12 years on the county planning commission.
He was in a three-way race in the 2012 primary when he ran for county commissioner. He won that nomination with 1,708 votes, defeating Lynn Findley, now a state senator, who had 1,681 votes, and Brent Hasler, who had 331 votes. Wilson won handily in the general election that year, beating Democrat Linda Simmons 6,131-3,265.
He was unopposed in 2016, winning a second term as a part-time paid commissioner.
Wilson said he is still devoted to the rail project but said “negativity” about the project hurt the county.
“That is very disappointing for the county, not for me. It is hard for me to imagine anyone could create so much negativity and never give up but I am not blaming that for my defeat,” said Wilson.
Wilson also said he is proud of the work the county court completed since he joined it in 2013.
“Financially we are in good shape. People bash us all the time about how we spend money or don’t spend money but they don’t attend any of the budget hearings. The county is well run regardless of what people think,” said Wilson.
Wilson said the court rarely receives the credit it deserves.
“We have done a lot over the years with not very much money,” said Wilson. “I am proud of the job I have done and the county court has done in the last eight years and I don’t think we owe anyone an apology.”
Wilson said he wasn’t sure whether his loss represents a referendum by voters on his job performance. He touted the amount of time he invested in his part-time work as county commissioner and said he would continue to work hard until his term ends in Jan. 1.
“I wish it had turned out different but it didn’t,” said Wilson. “When you have certain media that are negative about everything it hurts the whole community.”
Mendiola said he had no doubt about why Wilson was defeated.
“I think the reload center deal is why he lost. There’s just been so much smoke and mirrors on that deal with a whole lot of questions. Voters sent a message they are not happy with what is going on,” said Mendiola.
Jacobs said he wasn’t sure why he defeated Wilson.
“I hate to speculate. I suppose people would like to see a change but it was a pretty rousing defeat for Larry,” said Jacobs.
Mendiola said he expected Wilson to gather more votes.
“I was surprised it wasn’t much closer just because he was the incumbent,” said Mendiola.
Jacobs said he is ready to move toward the November contest with Shock.
“I am honored for the people that voted for me and that I was able to win the election. I recognize I have to go through the general election now and I just have a lot of work to do to get caught up on issues,” said Jacobs.
Wilson said, he, too, wanted to thank all of his supporters and wished Jacobs the best in the November general election.
“I just hope the best for the county,” said Wilson.
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