By Casey Brown of the CUJ
There is one seat open on the three-person Umatilla County Commission in the May 19 primary election.
Five candidates are running to succeed retiring Commissioner Bill Elfring from Echo who has filled position #3 for two terms.
The five candidates running for the open seat include Jonathan Lopez, Patricia Maier and Dan Dorran, all from Hermiston; HollyJo Beers of Milton-Freewater; and Mark Gomolski of Umatilla. No candidate from Pendleton is running.
The top two candidates will face off in the November General election on Nov. 3. George Murdock from Pendleton and John Shafer from Athena will continue serving their terms.
Vote-by-mail primary election voters who choose to drop off their ballots can use one of nine ballot boxes, including one in front of the Nixyaawii Governance Center on the Umatilla Indian Reservation and one at the Umatilla County Courthouse in Pendleton.
All five candidates responded to a questionnaire provided by the CUJ. Full responses from each candidate can be read on the CUJ website at ctuir.cuj.org/2020/04/county-commissioner-questionnaires.
One of the five candidates has elected local government experience, while all five have strong connections to local government.
Mark Gomolski has worked on multiple campaigns for local positions, including in Cook County, Illinois, which is the second largest county, by population, in the county. He lived in Chicago for 30 years before moving to Umatilla County in 2013. He currently sits on the Hermiston School Board, which he was elected to in February 2017.
This is not his first go round with a Umatilla County commissioner campaign. He managed Elfring’s successful re-election campaign in 2015.
Dan Dorran has extensive fair and rodeo management experience, and served on the Umatilla County Charter Review Committee from 2018-2019. The charter is required to be reviewed every four years.
Dorran currently sits on the Farm-City Pro Rodeo Board and has served as president of the Umatilla County Fair Board. He was a member of the governing board of the Eastern Oregon Trade and Event Center (EOTEC), which is where the Umatilla County Fair is now held.
Pat Maier is the former director of United Way of Umatilla and Morrow counties, and the former assistant to the superintendent of schools in Butler, Kansas.
Jonathan Lopez, the youngest candidate in the race at 29, is the owner of Einstein Learning Center in Hermiston and the English pastor and worship leader at Living Springs Apostolic Church. He moved to fulfill a work contract and when the contract expired in 2018 he chose to stay.
HollyJo Beers is retired with a background in law enforcement and newspaper publishing. Beers, who graduated from Eastern Oregon University, is a former security officer at Wildhorse Resort & Casino. She worked for the Umatilla County Courts as a court clerk and jury clerk, and was a reserve police officer in Umatilla for nearly five years.
The CUJ asked candidates several questions, ranging from knowledge of Tribal history to tribal government and the relationship between Umatilla County and the CTUIR.
Maier says she knows CTUIR is a “sovereign nation” that “controls their own government,” but she is unaware of how tribal members are taxed.
“That is one thing I will understand at some point,” she said. “The reason I’m running for County Commissioner is to represent each and all of the county residents. I would like to believe all businesses, including CTUIR’s, are important to the county.”
When speaking about tribal government Gomolski said, “Elections are held and the citizens elect their own officers in the tribal government. But the citizens are also allowed by law to take part in local, state and federal elections in the United States.”
Gomolski mentioned his knowledge of the Tribes’ committee-and-commission process, treaty fishing rights and Kayak public transit.
Dorran says he learned about the Treaty of 1855 in the Hermiston School District.
“Growing up in Hermiston and Umatilla County, I was lucky that the Walla Walla Treaty of 1855 was taught as part of our history classes,” he said.
Dorran said he is willing to learn more about the Tribes.
“Listening will be critical to understanding. If or where we disagree, I would hope that all will realize that it is not with malie or negative intentions, but each will have a consturency to represent. I look forwared to posiotive and constructive relations.”
When asked about the relationship between Umatilla County and the CTUIR, Lopez said he believes bridges can be built.
“I believe that the county and the tribes yet have bridges to build in relationships. Just as I come from a Latino background we have yet to see more partnerships for success,” he said.
Beers recognized the CTUIR’s economic power in the region, listing off the Tribes’ entities such as Wildhorse, Cayuse Technologies, Arrowhead Travel Plaza and the recent acquisistions of Hamley Steakhouse and Birch Creek Golf Course. She was also aware of Indian Lake and KCUW.
“The CTUIR is vital to the economy of the county … is generous in their assistance to different businesses and entitites by way of grants, gifts and advertising reach… The number of people employed by the Tribes is only eclipsed by those employed at EOCI (Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution) in Pendleton,” Beers said.