All three Baker County Commissioners will be listed on the May 15 primary ballot — but only two of their positions are up for election this year.
This twist came about Monday when Commissioner Bruce Nichols, who is not up for re-election, filed to run against his colleague, Bill Harvey, for Harvey’s position as commission chairman (Position 3). Mike Downing, Baker City mayor, has also filed to run against Harvey.
The third commissioner, Mark Bennett, is running unopposed for a four-year term in Position 2.
Both Bennett and Harvey were elected in 2014, so their terms expire at the end of 2018.
Nichols, though, was elected in 2016 to a four-year term that continues through the end of 2020.
Nichols said Tuesday he believes he is uniquely qualified to be the county’s top elected administrator due to his experience as a longtime CPA.
“I think Baker County can do better,” Nichols said. “And I think I’m the person that can help Baker County do better.”
Nichols contends his financial experience, including auditing government agencies, would benefit the county, particularly with budgeting and financial administration.
“I have significant amounts of experience with governmental entities,” he said. “My abilities are well-suited for this job and that’s why I think I can do better for the county.”
Nichols said he decided only recently to challenge Harvey. Tuesday was the deadline for candidates to file.
He said he filed in part based on advice from several constituents.
“A lot of people were really pleased that I considered this,” Nichols said.
Harvey said his 40 years of running a successful contracting business and 18 years as the president of the Homebuilders Association along with his local government service including 12 years on the county planning commission and over three years as the county’s commission chair make him the candidate he hopes Baker County citizens will vote for.
“I’ve served Baker County citizens and hopefully they believe that I’m doing a good job. I believe I do,” he said. “If they want to keep me in there for another four years, I’d greatly appreciate it.”
Harvey was in Washington, D.C., Tuesday representing Baker County and the Eastern Oregon Counties Association at a meeting of the National Counties Association. He said being in the nation’s capital and meeting with federal legislators concerning such topics as extending the PILT (Payments In Lieu of Taxes) program and talking with Forest Service and BLM officials about local land use issues bolstered his experience.
“I’m here representing Baker County first,” Harvey said. “I’m now here putting my experience to work in Washington (D.C.) working with legislators and I’m getting things accomplished and that was my goal to begin with.”
Downing said his six years as a Baker City councilor, and his current position as mayor, would transfer well to the commission chairman position. Working with federal agencies and balancing the city’s difficult budgets in the past are skills he said would serve him well as a county commissioner.
“The things that I’ve done with the city over the last six years have put me in a good spot to be able to come into the county and hit the ground running to get some things done,” he said.
Like Baker City, Downing said the county has been and will continue to face challenging budget issues in the future. To deal with that will take hard work from all of the county commissioners, which is one of Downing’s main goals if he is elected.
“Our county commissioners need to work together well as a team as well as with other cities (in the county) and neighboring counties,” he said. “We are too rural of an area to try to do stuff individually.”
Downing also said with three candidates in the race it will be more challenging, but he is excited to be in the race.
“It’s going to be an interesting race,” he said. “Obviously I’m very hopeful that I will win or I wouldn’t be in it.”
See more in the March 7, 2018, issue of the Baker City Herald.