The four candidates vying for seats on the Malheur County Court provide the only contested races in the May 17 election.

Dan Joyce is running for re-election as Malheur County judge. He is challenged by Tom Vialpando, mayor of Vale.

Don Hodge is running for another term as county commission. He faces Vale businessman Jim Mendiola.

The Enterprise provided the four candidates with the same nine questions about issues in Malheur County. Their responses have been edited for length and are published below. Hodge said he would not answer.

Who’s on the ballot…

For Judge:

Dan Joyce: Joyce, 67, of Vale, was born in Ontario and raised in Juntura, where he ranched for many years. He graduated from Vale High School. He was first elected county judge in 2004. Before he was elected to the county judge position, he served two terms as a Malheur County commissioner. 

Dan Joyce (Enterprise/FILE)

Tom Vialpando: Vialpando, 52, of Vale, was born in Idaho. He served in the U.S. Air Force for eight years as a firefighter and crew chief and 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. He was elected mayor of Vale in 2020.

Tom Vialpando (The Enterprise/FILE)

For Commissioner:

Don Hodge: Hodge, 70, of Vale, is a retired U.S. Bank branch manager. Hodge graduated from Vale High School and earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Eastern Oregon University in 1974. He was elected Malheur County commissioner in 2010. He has been a hunter education instructor for more than 30 years.

Don Hodge (The Enterprise/FILE)

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

Jim Mendiola (Enterprise/FILE)

 

Q&A with the Candidates

Q: Housing for families and workers is in short supply in Malheur County. Describe three specific steps you have taken or will take at the county level to increase the housing stock.

Joyce: In April of 2020 we were charged with helping on this housing issue, and so we signed a letter, to help with homeownership in the community and (to create) a veteran’s village. This was with the acting mayor (Ontario) at the time. That was the start of the first one we did. It was part of helping the city of Ontario’s strategic plan in being able to create housing.

Our charge at the county is to . . . you have to have supporters . . . to forward letters to whomever needs them. We always support those types of roles. It is probably the No. 1 thing we do.

Vialpando: I will promote programs such as the Eastern Oregon Border Board to offer incentives for buyers and builders. Offering incentives will help us compete with the Idaho housing market. Landlords will be encouraged to provide fairly-priced rentals so that people are able to afford housing. I want to review our land use regulations so that we can identify land that doesn’t take away from farmland and rangeland to build homes upon. 

 I will advocate rehabilitation of older homes and also be open to nontraditional homes such as 3D printed homes and prefabricated homes.

Mendiola: Create better paying jobs. We need to find properties that have no water rights and try to zone them for homes. Fixing the problem will not happen overnight, but we have to start sometime. 

Hodge: Did not respond.

Q: Local employers are having great trouble finding employees. What is one step you have taken or will take at the county level to increase the labor market?

Joyce: In the forum the other night one of the issues that came up was the amount of benefits people get for not working. Other states have been able to get their Legislatures to decrease the amount of benefits so people can be active in the job market. Then, when you get to the ag side every administration I’ve ever been around, they change the rules. It’s a lobbying effort we’ve been involved in and I have been involved in.

Vialpando: We have to find a balance between the state or federally funded assistance programs and a living wage in this county. Employers could be offered incentives for hiring so that wages can be competitive with what is required to make ends meet. 

Mendiola: The federal government wants us to be dependent on them. It is too easy to get benefits for not working. We need to try to find ways to get people to want to work to better themselves and their families. We need to find ways to raise wages to the working folks. 

Hodge: Did not respond. 

Q: Malheur County voters have required the county court to discuss the idea of shifting Malheur County into Idaho. Explain why you either support or oppose putting Malheur County into Idaho.

Joyce: I do not support or oppose it. I support the people wanting to get it done. Will it work? I can’t answer that one. The reason we are having the discussion is because we do not get the support we need in rural Oregon.

Vialpando: My personal perspective on this issue is not what is up for discussion on this issue. The voters have made their voice heard, and the county is now required to have these meetings. It would be very difficult for the county to move into Idaho, and there are many layers of government that would need to approve this change. During these discussions, I would seek to understand the voices of those who do and do not want this change, and help to guide the discussion in the way that would best serve the residents of the county. 

Mendiola: We need to make sure the state is aware of the frustrations we are all experiencing. I support the thinking of the voters. There is very low expectation it will work. 

Hodge: Did not respond.

Q: What one step would you take to increase voter trust in county government?

Joyce: I think in the last 10 years the biggest thing I have seen here, since I’ve seen the benefits, is (live streaming) our meetings. It makes the meeting so much more transparent. Not only recorded by voice but by print too. I don’t know, honestly, how we could be more transparent.

Vialpando: To increase or rebuild trust once it has been broken takes time and determination. I have heard some people say that they don’t think the county currently communicates openly enough with the public about what decisions are being made. I would like to increase the notification of public hearings as well as participation by the public on county decisions. Encouraging and ensuring public participation in local government is highly important. I am determined to do this job in the light, and am ready to make difficult or contentious decisions without a lot of back-room deals. It is a two way street, and we can help make the public’s participation by going out of our way to be transparent and share what is happening.

Mendiola: We need to remember the revenue the court is spending is the people’s money. The court has to be more conservative on spending. Transparency is very important to everyone. Truth and trust go hand-in-hand with the voters of this county.

Hodge: Did not respond.

 Q: Drug abuse and addiction remain a considerable threat to the quality of life in Malheur County. What is one step you have taken or will take at the county level to reduce drug addiction in Malheur County?

Joyce: That is a multi-faceted question on how it is handled. Judicial, Mental health, Lifeways – there are all kinds of staff that work on this on a daily basis. I am not sure what we can do beyond what they are already doing to fix it.

Vialpando: I would like to meet with the Health Department and other stakeholders to hear what they have been working on and what is working well or needs improvement. Those who make this work their daily job are in a good position to help provide ideas and suggestions for improving the safety and health of the community. Effective treatment and prevention services must be available, and it is within the discretion of the county to award certain contracts for these and mental health services. Reviewing these contracts and their effectiveness is important. Building a stronger sense of community for all our residents.

Mendiola: We need tougher drug laws. We need to find ways to make drug dealing tougher than it is right now. We have abuse treatment in place throughout the state. We need to take back our streets and make it safer for our kids and grandkids. 

Hodge: Did not respond.

Q: The county contracts out its economic development operations. Why do you support or oppose continuing that arrangement?

Joyce: So, that’s a loaded question. So here we are, right in the middle of a project, so it is really hard not to continue the arrangement until it is fulfilled and then it is up for discussion. It’s about a 50/50 deal. It depends on how much time they do with respect of their investigation personally. I think it is incumbent for everyone to do their own investigation. I’ve had one call on this one.

Vialpando: It would be difficult for the county to employ its own economic development department and to attract and retain quality talent. The opposite side of the coin is that we are only enriching the pockets of “outsiders” by continuing to contract with the current development group.

Mendiola: We have state and regional economic development committees already in place. The work that is being done now is not getting the credit it deserves. The lack of information is not helping the confidence of the county’s voters/taxpayers.

Hodge: Did not respond. 

Q: Leadership is important on the county court. Describe a single situation in the past two years where you were the leader on a public service issue or project. Describe your role and what was accomplished under your direct leadership.

Joyce: There are three people involved in this and three people have a vote. We’ve talked about Calico Mine, a lithium mine, broadband, and every one of these issues we’ve had a discussion about.

Vialpando: Last year marked the 20th anniversary of the September 11th attack on our nation where we lost many first responders. I felt that it was very important that we remember those who fell and those who are still suffering from that day such as family members. I organized an event on September 11th 2021 to honor the fallen and also honor their family members as well as current first responders and their families. It was a great project that brought our community together for an important day of remembrance.

Mendiola: The past two years have been tough. I have served as president of the Vale Rodeo in the past. Currently we produce the best rodeo in the county. I am very proud of that rodeo. The rodeo board consists of an all-volunteer group. We work together to bring the rodeo to the public. Keeping the tradition healthy that started in 1914.

Hodge: Did not respond.

Q: What do you consider the biggest challenge facing Malheur County that you can impact through the Malheur County Court? Describe the challenge and one specific step you would take or propose in the first 60 days of the next term to deal with it.

Joyce: The biggest challenge we have is always going to be the budget. Who gets the funding, and that has really come forward since Covid. And maybe Covid is the biggest challenge we’ve ever faced. I hope the training we’ve taken will be helpful, Budget, Covid, some of these other projects we got going. Obviously, we have got, we did a drought declaration, and we will take a hit this year. Here we are, the other part of it is 72% of the county is federal lands so we have to continually lobby for PILT. So that is huge.

Vialpando: Not having an experienced grant writer to access funding for needed projects that our tax base cannot support. In my first 60 days I will present to the two county commissioners and department heads my reasons and desire to hire a grant writer. If approved we will then start the search for and hire a proven grant writer. 

Mendiola: Malheur County has a crime problem. Property theft is really bad. The court should work with the sheriff’s office and the D.A. to make robbery of personal property a more serious offense. 

Hodge: Did not respond.

Q: What is the primary reason that voters should vote for you in this election?

Joyce: If there is anything, any strong attribute I have, No. 1 would be experience here, and the continuity which I think is really important. I am a phone call away.

Vialpando: The voters should choose me for county judge because I demonstrate the skills and abilities to do the job well. I have the energy and attitude to help kick-start the county back on a better track, to address challenging issues, and look at situations from different perspectives. It is my goal to unify the various departments of the county and to help make it a better place for all of us to live and thrive.

Mendiola: I was raised on a small farm north of Vale. I have worked for the people of Malheur County for over 38 years. I think I have a little different view as a small business owner. 

Hodge: Did not respond.

EXCELLENCE IN JOURNALISM - Available for $5 a month. Subscribe to the digital service of the Enterprise and get the very best in local journalism. We report with care, attention to accuracy, and an unwavering devotion to fairness. Get the kind of news you’ve been looking for - day in and day out from the Enterprise.