Joyce, Mendiola prove to be the big winners in the May 17 election

Voters gave Malheur County Judge Dan Joyce another six-year term after the Tuesday, May 20, election. Meanwhile, Jim Mendiola defeated incumbent county commissioner Don Hodge. (The Enterprise/FILE)

VALE – Jim Mendiola was just about to hop out of his dump truck to load some gravel Wednesday morning when he stopped to reflect on his election victory.

Mendiola defeated incumbent Malheur County Commissioner Don Hodge in the primary election and while he said he wasn’t surprised about the win, he was startled about the decisive nature of the victory.

Mendiola, a local businessman who owns Jim Mendiola Gravel Products, overwhelmed Hodge by a nearly 2-to-1 margin. In the unofficial vote count early Wednesday, the Vale businessman captured 2,270 votes to Hodge’s 807.

Vale resident Jim Mendiola claimed victory over Don Hodge for a county commissioner slot in the Tuesday, May 17, election. (The Enterprise/FILE)

“It’s pretty awesome. I am humbled,” said Mendiola from his dump truck.

Mendiola said his win sends a clear message.

“It sounds like they (voters) are not very happy with what is going on,” said Mendiola.

In the other major local race, incumbent Malheur County Judge Dan Joyce held off challenger and Vale Mayor Tom Vialpando to secure another six-year term.

In unofficial results, Joyce collected 2,651 votes while Vialpando amassed 2,289 votes. Joyce garnered 54% of the vote while Vialpando seized 46%.

Vialpando said he ran on a platform of change and term limits and the result of the election signals voters are “not yet ready for change.”

“I made a good showing. Nothing against Dan. He ran, voters voted for him. I wanted to give the voters a choice and a voice for change but fell a little short,” said Vialpando.

Joyce couldn’t be reached for comment last week.

Hodge said he wasn’t too surprised about his loss to Mendiola.

“I figured with the publicity and the stuff that has happened over the past couple of years, the judge and I would both get beat. I congratulate Jim and I hope he enjoys his new position,” said Hodge.

During the past two years Hodge proved to be a vocal supporter of the now beleaguered rail reload project north of Nyssa. Hodge, though, has not addressed the facility’s deep financial trouble in detail.

The rail center is a central issue for Mendiola. He said an array of questions about the facility remain to be resolved.

“Hopefully we can get some answers. I’d like to see where our money is going. It’s a major deal and we got to get some answers,” said Mendiola.

Mendiola said the county faces other challenges as well but the rail center “is probably the priority.”

“I think there has been a lot of smoke and mirrors in that thing,” said Mendiola.

Riley Hill, Ontario mayor, said he wasn’t sure what the election results said about area voter’s wishes.

“I don’t know when one gets elected and one gets pushed out what that is saying. I guess people are semi-happy with the court,” said Hill.

Retired farmer Dirk De Boer, who is chairman of the Treasure Valley Community College Board, said he saw Hodge’s loss as a statement about the status of the rail reload center project north of Nyssa.

“I think it is frustration. I think a lot of people are frustrated in the progress of the reload facility,” said De Boer.

De Boer said Joyce’s victory can be attributed, at least partially, to his long tenure as judge.

“I think one reason he won was because his competition, Tom’s name, is not well known at all. Name recognition is No. 1,” said De Boer.

In other election results, Ontario voters approved a ballot measure to reform city government, triggered in part by the controversial tenure of former Ontario City Councilor Freddy Rodriguez. Rodriguez served as council president before he was recalled by voters.

Ontario voters also boosted the local motel tax to help fund the renovation of the Ontario Recreation District pool and to fund the Malheur County Fairgrounds.

Joyce, 67, was born in Ontario and raised in Juntura. A longtime rancher, Joyce graduated from Vale High School and was first elected to the county judge slot in 2004. Before he was elected to the county judge position he served two terms as Malheur County commissioner. Joyce was unopposed when he ran for his third 6-year term in 2016 and in 2010 he defeated Tom Butler 4,101-1,661.

Vialpando, 52, of Vale, was born in Idaho and served in the U.S. Air Force for eight years as a firefighter and crew chief. He received his bachelor’s degree in sociology and an associate’s degree in criminal justice from Idaho State University. He is a partner in a 3D printing company and was elected mayor of Vale in 2020.

Hodge, of Vale, 70, is a retired U.S. Bank manager and graduated from Vale High School. After high school Hodge earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Eastern Oregon University in 1974.

He was elected Malheur County commissioner in 2010 and was unopposed for his second term in 2014 and his third term in 2018. This election is the first time he has had a challenger.

Mendiola, 58, of Vale, graduated from Vale High School. He has operated Mendiola Gravel Products since 1998. Mendiola has also been involved as a local volunteer and as a president of the Vale 4th of July Rodeo Board.

Two local officials with no opponents were re-elected. Dave Goldthorpe will continue as Malheur County district attorney and Erin Landis won re-election as Malheur County circuit court judge.

 News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

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