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KLAMATH COUNTY COMMISSIONER: POSITION 1
Candidates agree the KBRA is too divisive
Jobs, the economy also at the forefront in candidate debate
By JOEL ASCHBRENNER Herald and News 3/10/12.
The Republican candidates for Klamath County Commissioner, Position 1 — like most people in the Basin — have distinct opinions on the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement.
One thing they agree on is that the landmark water settlement has been too divisive.
“It has torn our community apart,” said Kelley Minty Morris. “It’s not just neighbors fighting neighbors. It’s brothers fighting brothers.”
The candidates vying for the Republican nomination in the May 15 primary participated in a debate Wednesday night hosted by Herald and News editor Steve Miller and KlamathOnline.com editor Joe Spendolini. They were asked to explain how they would represent all their constituents, even those who have opposing views on the KBRA.
The KBRA and a related agreement aim to remove four Klamath River dams, establish affordable power rates and reliable water for irrigators, acquire a 92,000-acre tree farm for the Klamath Tribes and restore fish habitat.
Morris said she easily could represent citizens on both sides of the KBRA debate because she has not been as involved in water issues as her competitors and, therefore, would not be a polarizing figure on the issue.
Tom Mallams has been more involved in the KBRA than any of the candidates. He is a vocal opponent of the agreement and testified in Congress against it.
“It almost ensures the demise of irrigated agriculture in the Klamath Basin,” he said Wednesday.
But Mallams said he regularly works with KBRA supporters in his business and can represent both opponents and supporters of the agreement.
Incumbent commissioner Al Switzer said he supports the agreement but opposes dam removal — a stance his opponents say is contradictory. The agreements have turned Klamath County residents against each other, he said, when really they should be fighting the federal government and environmentalists for imposing environmental restrictions on the river.
“The flaming environmentalists probably want us to be fighting like this,” he said.
John Garee said he opposes the KBRA. The commissioners should try to work with legislators to stop the implementation of the agreement, but beyond that, he said, there isn’t much they can do.
“We’re really beating a dead horse here,” Garee said. “This thing is out of the commissioners’ hands.”
Here is a recap of the debate:
What do you think are the important issues for constituents in different parts of the county? For example: downtown Klamath Falls, Chiloquin, Gilchrist and the Running Y Ranch?
Mallams: Residents downtown are concerned about crime and vagrancy, Mallams said. In Chiloquin, the top issue is public safety because, he said, Klamath County sheriff deputies won’t respond to calls there unless someone is shot.
“Our advice up there is to arm yourself and be ready to protect yourself.”
Gilchrist residents are concerned about the disconnect between them and the rest of the county, he said.
Morris: Schools are the top issue for downtown residents, Morris said. Chiloquin is underserved by the sheriff’s office and public safety is the top concern there, she said.
In Gilchrist, residents are concerned with road conditions and failing sewer systems, and at the Running Y the top concern is economic recovery, she said.
Switzer: Downtown the top concerns are businesses moving out, a lack of parking and old buildings that need seismic retrofitting, Switzer said. He agreed public safety was the top issue in Chiloquin, and said he wished the town would fund its own police department.
Jobs at the timber mill in Gilchrist are the top concern for citizens there, he said. And at the Running Y it’s home values, he added.
John Garee: Issues for downtown residents are empty storefronts and buildings that need maintenance, Garee said.
Public safety is the top concern in Chiloquin, he said. In towns such as Chiloquin and Gilchrist, libraries are very critical; they provide Internet access for residents without computers, he added.
Garee said he doesn’t see many problems at the Running Y.
The state has passed legislation to administer Medicaid through coordinated care organizations. There are a few options for who would run a CCO in Klamath County. Do you think it should be a group of local private medical officials or a public agency that manages CCOs around the state?
Garee: Garee said the coordinated care organization should be run by private industry.
“Keep the government out of our business,” he said.
Switzer: CCOs are the state’s version of federal health care reform, or Obamacare, Switzer said. The county should examine all options for implementing the CCO before picking one, he added.
Morris: CCOs are intended to save money by streamlining Medicaid, but Morris said she is skeptical they will work.
Morris agreed the county should examine all options, public and private, for administering CCOs before making a decision.
Mallams: Mallams said he favors private administration of the CCO but agreed the county should look at all options.
“ This is going to affect everyone in this room and everyone in the county,” he said
Do you favor repealing federal health care reform, often called Obamacare?
Morris: Government-run health care will be more costly and less efficient than private health care and she supports the repeal of Obamacare, Morris said.
Mallams: Mallams said he supports the repeal of Obamacare and thinks constituents agree.
“I can’t think of a thing the government has ever done more efficiently than the private sector,” he said.
Garee: Garee also supported the repeal of Obamacare, saying it will be too costly for businesses.
Switzer: Obamacare should be repealed because it is too costly, Switzer said.
Do you support the O&C Trust, Conservation and Jobs Act, legislation that aims to set aside about 2.6 million acres, some for conservation and some for timber production?
Switzer: Switzer said he helped develop the plan that was later proposed by three U.S. Representatives from Oregon.
He said he supports the plan because it would open about 1.5 million acres to logging and would create 12,000 to 14,000 jobs statewide. The bill also requires logs be processed domestically, creating even more jobs, he said.
The bill, Switzer said, includes more environmental protections than he would like, but in Congress there have to be compromises.
Garee: The O&C Act is a great thing for
Klamath County because it will create jobs, Garee said.
Even if some of the land is set aside for conservation, where only forest thinning is allowed, that creates jobs, too, he said.
Mallams: Mallams said the O&C Act shows some promise but he has heard conflicting information about it.
The bill would put some people back to work in the forests, but it sets aside too much old growth timber for conservation, he said. It could result in nothing more than a large forest thinning project, rather than substantial timber production, he added.
Morris: Economic development depends, in part, on using our natural resources, Morris said.
The county needs to be self reliant with natural resources rather than relying on the federal government to subsidize the county, she said.
Jobs are voters’ top concern, according to a Herald and News survey. Everyone says reducing regulations will bring in more jobs. Being more specific than that, how will you bring in jobs?
Garee: Garee said he would cut regulations on businesses.
He added he would look to consolidate the Klamath County Economic Development Association and Discover Klamath, the county’s tourism agency, into one agency under the Klamath County Chamber of Commerce. As a group of private businesses, the Chamber could run the agencies more efficiently than the government, he said.
Switzer: We need to be able to use our natural resources, such as timber and water for agriculture, to bring in jobs, Switzer said.
Additionally, many businesses pass on locating in Klamath Falls because there is no four-lane highway here, he said. He added he has worked with state agencies to promote expanding Highway 97 to four lanes, a $12 billion project.
Morris: We need to invest in emerging markets, like biotechnology and energy development, Morris said. Klamath County is positioned to supply some of California’s growing energy demands, but it will take coordination between officials from the county and the city of Klamath Falls, she said.
Morris added the county cannot depend on natural resources because, as seen before, the federal government can limit access to those resources.
Mallams: Reform of the Endangered Species Act is needed so Klamath County has guaranteed water for agriculture and the ability to harvest timber, Mallams said.
ESA restrictions have crippled local economies all over the country, Mallams said, adding he has worked with lawmakers to advocate for ESA reform.
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Page Updated: Sunday March 11, 2012 11:57 PM Pacific
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