By Kirby Neumann-Rea • Of the News-Register • 

Election 2022 County commission, House District candidates air views at forum

 Mental health and related policy concerns were the topic Oct. 6 as an audience of 90 people filled the main meeting room of McMinnville Senior Center.

It was one of the largest gatherings at the facility since the pandemic.

While the forum remained free of contention, the opportunity to discuss the climate crisis showed a distinct difference between Yamhill County Commission candidates Kit Johnston and Beth Wytoski.

While Yamhill County National Alliance for Mental Illness members started with a series of questions centered on mental health, questions from attendees filled the second  half of the event, with State House Dist. 23 candidates Rep. Anna Scharf (R-Amity) and Democrat Kriss Wright taking questions, along with State House Dist. 24 candidates Lucetta Elmer, the Republican, and Victoria Ernst, the Democrat.

Not all candidates were asked all questions, and one regarding climate change went only to Wytoski and Johnston: “Is climate change real and do humans contribute to it?”

Wytoski said, “yes, I believe climate change is real and yes, I believe human activity contributes to it. At the county level I think are a few things we can do to limit our local impact although we can’t necessarily control global activity.”

 Johnston, a Dayton-area farmer, then answered the question.

“Climate change. Yeah, not man-made at all,” Johnston said. “I believe it’s the natural progression of what we’re going through right now. I do believe that we need to start storing water. I love the storage aspect as a farmer. We need to be a more productive with our farm ground. We have a lot of non-irrigated farm ground and the more we can store in Yamhill County I think the better we can get, the better crops we can grow, the more farmers will pay more taxes into Yamhill County.”

Wytoski, who is Dayton mayor, said, “One thing we can do is address the landfill issue. We’ve had long term discussions about what to do over Riverbend landfill, whether a new permit for expansion would be issued, I do not support a new permit for that. The threat for closing it down was that our rates would significantly increase. That has not been the case and in the City of Dayton we negotiated a different franchise agreement than all of the other Yamhill county cities because we held them to their agreed-upon rate increase when we discovered the city of Warrenton was paying a lower rate than we were even though we were being told our rate was premium, even though it’s in our back yard.”

Johnston said, “I live in Dayton, my garbage rates went up.”

Wytoski replied, “Not in the city. That’s the county.”

Candidates criticized red tape in setting up services as well as provision of new mental health programs and facilities, and lobbied for public-private partnerships for creation of much-needed housing to support people dealing with mental health crises.

“There is so much bureaucracy and hoops,” said Elmer, McMinnville. “We need to put resources where they can me most effective, then look at where the holes are. We need strong leadership so we can be more efficient.”

Ernst, also of McMinnville, pointed to the lack of public defenders in Oregon, and urged a focus on rehabilitation for criminal offenders, “especially people with mental health issues,” citing the fact that 26 percent of unhoused adults in Oregon are experiencing some form of mental health challenge. “Lower- level crimes” should be diverted to other programs, Ernst said.

To Scharf, until the state does “a better job of focusing on doing better with community programs, it’s just catch-and-release” of offenders. “I’m worried about funding,” said Scharf, who was appointed to her seat last year. “Federal money is our money. The federal government gets their money from us.

“The biggest problem in Salem is there is no feedback loop (for spending and effectiveness.) We have got to have accountability in Salem and we have not had that.”

Wright, a Newberg Democrat, said “we need to remove barriers to grants, and make things more flexible for communities. I would look at untraditional funding” for mental health facilities, including forest revenue and other taxes. She also called for cities to use what is known as inclusionary zoning: requiring developers to build 10 percent of a housing development to support mental health clients.

Johnston decried the decision by Oregon Gov. Kate Brown not to certify a behavioral health facility proposed for Wilsonville.

“We’ve got to get politics out of our mental and behavior health, period,” he said.

Wytoski described current programing as “little bits,” and called for coordinated programs known as “wrap-around.”

“We need to elect people capable of long-term planning,” Wytoski said.

Johnston also came out strong against Measure 110, calling for repeal of the 2020 law that decriminalized many drug offenses and set up options for drug treatment, funded by revenue from marijuana sales.

The theme of leadership arose several times in answers by the Elmer and Ernst, who are running for the seat currently held by Rep. Ron Noble (R-McMinnville.)

Elmer, who owns multiple businesses, said, “I think we live in a community in District 24 that is extremely generous, smart and hardworking and I think they want to do the right thing. You know, I want to make sure that government doesn’t get in their way. I want them to be able to go out and do what they are trying to do. We have a lot of organizations in Yamhill County that are focused on mental health and they are trying to do it. And they are working their tail off and they are seeing success. I just want to see that they have the resources they need. I believe strong leadership will help them with that and I think I am the best choice for that.”

Ernst, an attorney and community advocate,  said, “We need somebody from here that understands agriculture. I worked in the nursery and hazelnut industry for six years before law school and I also have a  lot of legislative drafting experience and I’m a lawyer and I know how laws get enforced so I can write legislation that won’t be watered down in the courts and actually do it as it was intended to do.

“To be honest, Lucetta is saying ‘change’ but District 24 has been held by a Republican for almost as long as I’ve been  alive. So that’s the status quo. If you want change if you want to see solutions that actually work her, then please vote for me,” she said.

“We’re not able to shape legislation in a way that is going to produce solutions that are going to produce solutions for our needs here. And that’s the voice I want to be in Salem, that’s the voice that’s missing,” Ernst said.

Johnston told the audience, “I think the biggest important thing is we build relationships with our other county commissioners, state representatives, our senators. We’ve got to keep those lines of communication open and be working with them on a day-to-day basis. It’s important to know what’s going on the state because most of the things that are going to affect us are going to come from the state, and Measure 110 is a classic example of that. It affects all of us and we need to have a larger voice to combat some of this stuff at the state. So, relationships.”

Wytoski said, “After serving on my city council 14 years and nine years as mayor I have a lot of experience in local non-partisan government and I feel like I kind of need to say that louder: Local government is intended to be non-partisan.” Johnston’s yard signs are consistently aligned with those of the Republican Elmer, and Johnston spoke, as did Elmer, at the invitation of the county Republican Party on Oct. 7 at the McMinnville Chamber of Commerce greeters event.

“Delivery of services does not care about D and Rs after your name,” Wytoski said, “your sewer or water rates are not impacted and, as much as we need to focus, because water is absolutely the gold, mayors will say whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting. These are critical things but these are not partisan things.”

Wright said, “Let’s go back to the beginning. In Polk County, 70 percent of the homeless adults interviewed said they were homeless as children. According to the 15th Day Foundation, the 15th day of a homelessness for a child is the day a child is lost homelessness. Homeless children grow up remaining challenged as adults, for their entire lives from this traumatizing experience. Trauma physically alters the brain, doubling the size of the (medulla) oblongata. Leading to susceptibility and vulnerability of developing PTSD and other disorders. We do it by nipping it in the bud by helping our kids. As we’re running and catching all the other stuff.”

Scharf said, “In 1991, fresh out of college, in my first job as a lobbyist, in 1991 we had balance in the state of Oregon. We passed really good legislation in the state of Oregon in 1991, We had bipartisan legislation. I left after 1991, 12 years ago I went back to Salem as an unpaid lobbyist and advocate, because I saw what partisan politics in Salem was doing to my family, to my business, to my community. We had one-party rule both chambers and in the governor’s office, and if you didn’t play partisan politics you didn’t win. I didn’t think it was true until I got appointed. Somebody asked me ‘what was the one thing you didn’t expect going in, being appointed?’ I said, I didn’t know what it felt like to not matter. It’s time to bring balance back to Salem. It’s time to make every person matter in Salem.”





Thank you for this article. I wasn't able to attend, and appreciate seeing some of the differences in the candidates.

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