Chris Collins
The Baker City Herald
Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

Incumbent Bill Harvey earned another four-year term as Baker County Commission chairman, and voters by a wide margin rejected a $48 million school construction bond for the Baker School District in Tuesday’s election.

Harvey defeated challenger Bruce Nichols, who is also a commissioner, 4,142 votes (53.1 percent) to 3,626 (46.5 percent), according to unofficial results from the Baker County Clerk’s office.

Harvey won by a much larger margin than in the May primary, when he received 45 percent of the votes compared with Nichols’ 43 percent.

A third candidate, Mike Downing, received 11 percent of the votes in the primary.

“I just want to thank all the citizens of Baker County that went through the process and I like the process, I appreciate it and it is the way our country is built on,” Harvey said Tuesday night. “I look forward to serving for another four years.”

The school district bond measure, which would have paid to build a new elementary school for grades 1-6, remodel Baker High School to accommodate seventh- and eighth-graders, and make energy and safety improvements at other schools, failed by a more than 2-to-1 margin.

Voters rejected the measure, which would have been the first of its kind in the Baker 5J District since 1948, by a margin of 4,725 votes (68.4 percent) to 2,185 (31.6 percent).

Still reeling from the bond measure’s defeat, Baker School Superintendent Mark Witty said Tuesday night that the discussion about how to pay for school improvements will continue.

“I think we need to keep at it,” he said. “We need to do the best for our community and for our kids. We need to get to a place where we can agree.”

Witty, calling the plan to seek voter approval of a bond measure a “courageous effort, said he was surprised by the large number of voters who opposed it.

“We’ll take a breath, study the results and get with the Board to try to figure out what next steps we take,” Witty said.

He noted the hard work of the “Yes for Kids” group, led by volunteer Kim Mosier, that promoted passage of the bond and praised their efforts. Since organizing in August, the political action committee raised more than $15,000 that was spent on signs, advertising and other promotions. Members also staffed information booths supporting the measure at various community events.

Witty also expressed his appreciation for the work of the volunteers on the Long Range Facility Planning Committee who spent more than a year studying the District’s facilities and visiting schools to learn about other systems. Group members presented their findings to the Board in February.

Board members voted in July to place the bond measure on the November ballot.

In a press release issued today, Witty emphasized the need to seek a solution to the District’s “urgent facilities needs” and pointed out that Baker voters have not approved a school construction bond since 1948.

“Our elementary schools and middle school are still overcrowded,” he said. “Our buildings still have safety and efficiency issues. We will need to re-evaluate and figure out how to address these issues.”

Nichols, who was elected in 2016 and has two more years (2019 and 2020) in his term as commissioner, said he was disappointed with Tuesday’s results.

“Any time you go into politics, unfortunately you have to expect that you may lose,” Nichols said. “I am disappointed but the people decided to go this way so that’s their call. Bill worked very hard at it and there’s a lot of people that care about federal lands.”

Nichols said he plans to continue working to improve the county’s auditing process. Baker County is the only one of Oregon’s 36 counties that has not submitted its financial audit for the 2016-17 fiscal year to the state.

“I am hoping to shore up that area in the future even if I am not the chair,” Nichols said.

He said he’s confident that he and Harvey, despite having run against each other in two elections this year, can work together.

“I think we both learned things from each other and if I see the need to push back I will definitely push back on things, I won’t be run over and I think Bill understands that,” Nichols said.

“I think he’s learned that I am about transparency and wanting to know what’s going on ... and I have learned that he is a pretty tough opponent.

“We get along fine and we may butt heads again some time and I think that is a good thing,” Nichols said.

Harvey said he also is eager to continue to work on county projects.

“I am glad that it is over so that we can get the work of the people moving forward and that’s what we’re looking forward to,” Harvey said Tuesday night. “My goal is to finish what we started, we still got the Blue Mountain Forest Plan Revision right in our face.”

See more in the Nov. 7, 2018, issue of the Baker City Herald.