Christina Witham has been making signs for other people for many years but she isn’t quite comfortable with seeing her own name on one.
Much less signs all over Baker City.
But Witham will have to get used to it as she seeks her first elected office.
Witham, 52, a Baker City native, has filed for position 2 on the three-member Baker County Board of Commissioners. That’s the part-time position held now by Mark Bennett.
Bennett, whose term continues through the end of 2022, is not seeking reelection.
Witham, a 1987 Baker High School graduate, is the first person to file for either of the two commissioner positions.
Commission Chairman Bill Harvey, whose term also expires at the end of 2022, has also said he won’t seek another four-year term.
Witham, who owns Oregon Sign Company in Baker City, said the uncertainty about who will replace Harvey as the lone full-time commissioner was the factor that was hardest for her to overcome in deciding to file as a candidate.
But ultimately she decided this fall to collect signatures on a candidate petition, which was approved Dec. 8.
Witham said friends have encouraged her to run for a county commission position in the past, but she always declined.
“I’m not a politician at all and don’t want to be,” she said in an interview on Tuesday, Jan. 4.
When a friend broached the topic again in October 2021, Witham said she was initially hesitant as before.
But she said she talked with Harvey, and others, and she concluded that she “didn’t have any excuses” not to run.
Witham said Russ Witham, her husband of 33 years, also encouraged her, telling her he was confident she was capable of doing the job.
Christina Witham said she ultimately decided that this is the right time for her to try to serve Baker County in a new way.
“Now, more than ever, I think people need to be standing up if they see something that’s wrong or they want to change something,” she said.
Witham emphasizes that she believes the current commissioners — Bruce Nichols, along with Bennett and Harvey — have done a good job representing county residents, including during the pandemic, during which Bennett has served as the county’s incident commander.
Witham said that although COVID-19 “is a real thing,” she doesn’t support mandates for vaccines or masks.
She thinks residents should decide for themselves, and for their children, whether to be vaccinated or to wear masks.
“We’re going to have to learn to live with COVID and its strains,” Witham said. “We’re going to have to be smart about it, and protect the most vulnerable.”
Witham said she worries about the long-term effects on children of mask requirements.
She said she is also troubled by people losing their jobs due to the vaccine mandate.
Witham said that although she lacks experience as an elected official, she believes she’s well-positioned to represent county residents due to her familiarity with the county, its history, customs and culture.
“I know so many people and businesses and issues in the county just through my work over the last three decades,” she said.
Witham, who was born in Baker City, moved away with her family in 1976, when she was a second-grader, and then returned during her senior year in high school. She’s been here since.
Although Witham emphasizes that she’s not a politician, she has experience in political advocacy, most notably as a supporter of maintaining access for motor vehicles to the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest and other public land in the county.
Witham is a longtime member of a local group of four-wheel-drive enthusiasts who use local roads and trails and also have hosted many events to clean up trash on public lands.
Witham said she believes natural resource issues will continue to be vital to Baker County, including forest management.
“Our forests need help,” she said, citing recent large wildfires in and around the county.
About half of Baker County’s 2 million acres is public land, managed by either the Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management.
Witham said that if she’s elected she’s eager to confront a new challenge.
“I do look forward to diving into it — I think it’s an interesting position,” she said. “I want to come at it with a commonsense approach. I don’t have an agenda. My agenda is the people of the county, and that’s it.”
Witham pointed out that although this has no influence on her decision to run, she would be, if elected, the county’s first female commissioner.