(Enterprise file photo)

VALE – Ron Jacobs of Vale and Byron Shock of Ontario are on the November ballot to replace Malheur County Commissioner Larry Wilson and while they are on opposite sides of the fence politically, their solutions to some of the area’s challenges are similar.

Shock is a Democrat and Jacobs is a Republican.

The winner of the race will join county Judge Dan Joyce and Commissioner Don Hodge on the Malheur County Court, which oversees all county operations. As county judge, Joyce is paid $77,652 a year. The two commissioner positions are part time and are budgeted at about $31,000 a year.

Jacobs is the former president of the Oregon Water Resources Congress and served as the chairman of the Vale School District Board of Directors. He also previously served on the precinct committee of the Malheur County Republican Party.

Former county watermaster Ron Jacobs is running on the Republican ticket for county commissioner. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell)

Shock served on the precinct committee of the Malheur County Democratic Party and is a member of the Ontario Kiwanis Club Board of Directors.

Ontario resident Byron Shock is the Democratic candidate for Malheur County Commissioner. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell).

Last week both men answered questions from the Enterprise regarding key issues such as poverty, economic development and business park near the rail reload center north of Nyssa.

Malheur County has one of Oregon’s highest poverty rates – at 23% – and both candidates offered solutions. 

Jacobs said the best way to tackle poverty is to “encourage businesses to come in here and try to create more jobs for people.”

“And continue to support our businesses that are here, in particular agriculture,” said Jacobs.

Jacobs said he would ensure the county was “accommodating” to businesses looking to relocate.

“Do anything we can as a county to ease the burden that exists for small businesses,” said Jacobs though he did not offer any specifics.

Shock the county should continue to “lobby the state for resources allocated not on the basis of population but on the basis of need.”

Shock said he wants the rail shipping center to come to fruition.

“It can be the engine for a lot of industry in this county. I would like to see the reload center be flexible enough to be used by other industry other than agriculture,” said Shock.

Shock also said he wants the county to “do whatever possible to support diversified agriculture products.”

On poverty, Shock said the root causes of the problem are complex.

“There is no one silver bullet solution,” he said.

Shock said the county must also “be involved in a lot of the conversations we have been having about homelessness, food insecurity and the county needs to be part of the solution.”

More than half of county residents face underlying health conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity.

About 13% of the county’s population also is food insecure, which means individuals or families lack a reliable access to an enough quantity of affordable, nutritious food.

Jacobs, the retired county water master, said he isn’t sure what the county can do precisely to help people with individual underlying health conditions.

Shock said the first step on the road to solve the overall health of the community is to contain the Covid virus.

“One thing the county can do – and I anticipate there will be a need in the coming years – is to make sure the Public Health Department is fully resourced in testing, contact tracing and education pertaining to COVID-19,” said Shock.

That means, said Shock, the county will be required to “rethink” its budget.

“Because you only get to spend money once and, if it is spent at the health department, it won’t be available for other things which will make for some difficult conversations,” said Shock.

Jacobs also said it will be important for the county to review its investment in economic development.

“I want to make sure we are getting what we are paying for,” said Jacobs.

Jacobs said the county should not use taxpayer funds to finance a proposed business park near the $26 million rail reload facility. Earlier this year, the county court spent just over $3 million in taxpayer funds for a 290-acre parcel north of Nyssa for the rail shipping center and adjacent industrial park.

The decision was controversial at the time and Jacobs and Shock leaned more toward private firms investing in the project.

“That money shouldn’t be coming from the county but from individual businesses that may want to utilize it,” said Jacobs.

Shock also said outside firms should shoulder the burden of developing the park.

“If private developers own it, that makes it all the less likely we would be putting further money into it,” said Shock.

Malheur County’s Latino population is about 30%. Both candidates were asked what they plan to do to improve the Latino participation in county government.

“There are a lot of initiatives at the state level, particularly in health care, that are attempting to address inequalities in communities of color. I don’t know if we could have some home-grown initiatives as well but I think it would be great. I know we are going to have to be creative because money is going to be tight,” said Shock.

Jacobs said everyone – including people of color – should be inspired to get involved with government.

“Where there are opportunities to serve, we need to let everyone know we need them here and want them here. I really encourage them to get involved,” said Jacobs.

If elected, both men would be in one of the top leadership positions in the county. Good leadership, said Jacobs, revolves around key attributes.

“Get involved, listen, step up when things need to be taken care of. We also need to make sure we have transparency and let people know what is going on,” said Jacobs.

Shock said the No. 1 quality of a good leader is humility.

“And the ability to learn from others who have been part of the county’s administration for much longer, including elected leaders at the county level. The current pandemic conditions call for someone with a good head on their shoulders,” said Shock.

Jacobs said he is running for commissioner because the county has “really given me a lot throughout my life.”

Shock, who works in adult mental health in Ontario, said he wants to be commissioner because in the past the county was not “fully transparent and accountable.”

“The county needs to be much more responsive to public records requests. It is important in a democracy that entities be fully transparent and not throwing up barriers to obtaining records,” he said.

News tip? Contact Pat Caldwell at [email protected] or 541-473-3377.

ELECTION DETAILS: 

• Register to vote online HERE

• Last day to register: Tuesday, Oct. 13 

• NOTE: File new voter registration if you have moved; ballots are not forwarded like other mail. 

• Request absentee ballot if you will be away from home HERE

• Ballots mailed: Wednesday, Oct. 14 

• Last day to mail ballot: Tuesday, Oct. 27 

• Election Day: Tuesday, Nov. 3  

YOU CAN HELP KEEP LOCAL NEWS FLOWING: Reader support allows the Enterprise to provide in-depth, accurate reporting that otherwise would not get done. Keeping the community well informed is essential. SUBSCRIBE - $5 a month, automatically. DONATE - to provide additional support.