This week, I found myself in what is for me, an epic quandary.
As many readers know, I've spent the last couple of years studying and writing about land use in this state. For me, this is one of the issues I find most important as an Oregonian. Decisions about how land is zoned, developed and used affect every part of our quality of life from where we live/work, how we get from place to place, what we eat and even how much the taxpayers will have to spend to complete infrastructure projects.
In Oregon, the County Commissions are the governing body that generally have the most to do with decision making on land use. If there's to be a zoning change or permits or planning, those entities are, to use a Bushism, the deciders. The people that are elected to serve in these jobs have a serious and powerful responsibility both to those that seek to develop land and those citizens who live, work and play in the region. This kind of work takes up a good portion (if not the vast majority) of the Commission's time and resources.
For years in Washington County, the County Commission has been heavily weighted toward more development. Despite significant push back by local citizens, the Commission has nevertheless chosen to consistently favor handing over large swaths of land to commercial and residential developers, leaving the county with massive traffic and other infrastructure problems. Local taxpayers are left in turn with the decision to either pay to complete huge infrastructure projects or continue to limp along with the currently overwhelmed system. Neither is an especially inviting prospect, in my view.
Washington County Commission is made up of five members: four district commissioners plus the Chair. Two of the districts seats and the Chair are up for election this cycle. It's a key opportunity to fundamentally change the way Washington County has been managing land use.
I've been very supportive of the candidacy of Greg Malinowski, a farmer in District 2 who very much reflects my own concerns about Washington County. Malinowski has been an ardent defender of farmland and is extremely knowledgeable about county decisions and their impact on the community. Greg is very thoughtful and smart on this issue as well.
Last week, I discovered that Greg had filled out a form for the Oregon Family Council's Voter Guide. While I haven't been able to get my hands on the actual form or speak with Greg yet, a number of Washington County folks (and a number outside of the county) have contacted me with information that Malinowski noted that he is anti-choice. At least one of the people I spoke with actually had the form in front of them while they were speaking with me on the phone. I did manage to have an email exchange with the campaign manager about if this was really the case, and I was told that I would need to speak with Greg directly about it. So for the moment, I'm working off the premise that Malinowski is indeed anti-choice.
Reproductive choice issues are huge to me. To my knowledge, I have never supported an anti-choice candidate. On my personal priority list of issues, its very close to the top. When I heard about the form and Greg's alleged answer, it felt like a punch in the stomach.
So besides trying to suss out Greg's actual position on choice, I began to study how much impact the Washington County Commission has on local health clinics that provide abortion. The answer I've been able to get so far: none. They do some funding for health clinics in the County but as far as I can tell, none of them provide abortions. In fact, Chair Tom Brian said that in the 12 years that he's been on the Washington County Commission there has never been a time where abortion services has been an issue. Not to say it couldn't happen, but it doesn't appear for now that the County is doing this work.
So if the County isn't working with reproductive health issues, what's the problem? It's possible that the County may have this issue in front of them. With the federal government getting more and more aggressive about cutting off abortion funding, even for private insurance, its not unreasonable to believe that pro-choice communities will start to look toward a local solution. Further, County Commission positions can be a major stepping stone toward other office where abortion funding and services are relevant to the job.
I'm already getting messages from friends saying that this makes Malinowski a non-starter for them and they can't understand why I'm struggling. But I know how difficult it is to find people who have the depth and breadth of knowledge on land use and are willing to serve without handing out zoning changes and permits like they're bubble gum.
Do I dump a guy who is awesome on the biggest issue the job he's running for deals with because he's bad on an issue they have almost nothing to do with right now..but could in the future?