The following is a questionnaire presented to me by the Columbia County Republican Party. As always, I appreciate your feedback. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or text me at 503-928-2151 to schedule a phone call.
Columbia County Republicans 2020 Primary County Commissioner Questionnaire
Candidate Name: Brandee Dudzic
Candidate Email: email@example.com
1. Port Westward Rezone - What is your position on the Port of Columbia County's application to rezone unused agricultural land in Port Westward?
A message that I have asserted in my campaign is that a good Commissioner doesn’t just make decisions for today; they make them with the next 3 generations in mind too.
If governmental agencies across the country continue to allow industry to take over our precious, limited farmland, our future ability to feed ourselves will change in permanent ways. I cannot, in good conscious, support this rezone and still be able to look myself in the mirror, believing that I am a good steward of this land. Once this land is rezoned, it is gone forever, and it cannot be reversed. I will not sell Columbia County out to enrich a corporation.
Covid-19 is a jolting reminder that our food supply chain can unravel very quickly, especially if due to a natural disaster where our road systems could be rendered totally unusable. We must preserve the ability to feed ourselves. It is too big of a risk not to and that is not a political position.
“Only when the last tree has died, and the last river been poisoned, and the last fish been caught will we realize we cannot eat money.” -Cree Indian Prophesy
2. Use of County funds - List three areas that you believe the County could make fiscal improvements?
One of the most important actions we could take to save tax-payer dollars is to adopt an energy plan similar to the one that Hood River County has. Hood River County has recognized that by being forward-thinking in terms of energy usage at the county level, they can save taxpayers nearly $9 million dollars every ten years. (Lake County, Oregon, has done this too.) County Commissioners have a responsibility to look at our energy use with an eye towards weeding out waste and inefficiency. An added bonus of this endeavor is local job creation; someone has to make these updates, and I commit to hiring local contractors to keep dollars in our own community, not to mention the benefits of creating a resilient community while reducing our carbon emissions.
According to the Fiscal Sustainability Report, there are no other areas of trimming waste—only methods of generating more revenue. In order to know if more things could be streamlined or consolidated down further, we must first conduct a full analysis of how other counties similar to ours in size and population operate fiscally and compare that to what we are doing. I think this is a sound idea either way.
3. County Administrator - Some people have called for hiring a County Administrator and then having volunteer or lower paid Commissioners. Are you for or against this idea and why?
Yes, I am supportive of hiring a County Administrator. I am not in favor of having volunteer Commissioners; however, I would be supportive of lowering the Commissioners salaries if that would be a sustainable way for us to fund an administrator salary. I value the investment I have made in my education and all the other skills and talents I bring to the table and while I wish to be compensated accordingly, I also would emphasize those of us called to public service typically have a pretty clear understanding that we will not be earning what we would be if we had chosen the private sector instead.
As elected officials, we come to the table with our own unique subject matter expertise. Mine is conflict management and community-based education, just to name a few. We are also elected by a body of our peers, and not necessarily upon competence. Having a county administrator is an added layer of accountability to the commissioners and department heads. Having our department heads report directly to commissioners is unwise and was complained about in great detail in the county employee survey last year.
4. Second Amendment - There will be a local measure on the fall ballot that prevents Columbia County from passing any ordinances that interfere with our 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution. What is your position on the Second Amendment Sanctuary Ordinance?
By definition, an ordinance can only be enacted if it is not in conflict with any higher form of law, such a state statute. So, even if this ordinance passes, it will not hold up in court. The SASO misunderstands the power the county has to override our state’s gun laws. Columbia County would have to declare our state laws unconstitutional and fight it out in the courts.
My observation is that backers of the sanctuary ordinance insist that any gun-control legislation unconstitutional. Instead, what is needed is thoughtful dialogue with many community members over proposed legislation, bill by bill.
On a personal note, I would like to add that I served as a Medic in the Oregon ARMY National Guard. During a competition I participated in that had many events over the course of 3 days, I was the winner of an event called “Pandora’s Box.” In Pandora’s Box, the contents of a dissembled M249, an M4, and an M9 were dumped together and mixed up. It was my job to reassemble them, blindfolded and timed, and perform a functions check on all 3. I share this because I understand weapons systems well and I respect them.
5. Top priorities for Columbia County - What will be your three top priorities for the county will be if elected and how you would implement them?
My top priorities are:
6. What does the County do now to support small business and what could they do better? Same question for large business.
Columbia County receives lottery funds from the State of Oregon in order to pay its share of funds to the Columbia County Economic Team (CCET). CCET’s primary function is to seek out opportunities for economic and infrastructure development, but it also strives to retain the businesses we already have. In terms of big business, Columbia County is an essential stakeholder with OMIC R&D. I am excited to watch the growth of this partnership and fully support manufacturing being a foundational economic catalyst for South County.
CCET is also the fiscal sponsor of Keep it Local Columbia County whose main message to residents is to shop local and reminds us of the assets we have. There are multiple organizations in our county whose function it is to support small business and I think that while the county is involved in an indirect way, there is more they could be doing. For example, the county needs to take a leadership role in forging better working partnerships based on trust and mutual respect. Currently, these groups are operating as individuals, not partnerships. It is my observation that there is a culture of scarcity here where it is every man for themselves. In the same token, I have nothing but positive things to say about all of our Chambers, CCET, and Keep it Local Columbia County, but stronger leadership from the county could really tie it all together. I believe that small business is an engine of growth and as a county, we should do more to help entrepreneurs access startup capital.
An offering of constructive criticism is that Columbia County is economically repressed and embodies so much small-town politicking that we have gotten stuck. We need to let go of the past and let go of our egos. It is important to hear I do not say this about any particular group of people, and I am not insulting anyone—we have all participated in this in one way or another. What I believe most is that this community needs to heal. The losses of certain industries here run deep and until we find closure and work together on a shared vision for our future, we will struggle to move forward.
7. Next Renewables - There is a potential billion dollar investment in a renewable diesel facility at Port Westward. Where is your position on this?
Let me start with the good news…I think renewable diesel is a promising step in the right direction, but NEXT Renewables and their President, Lou Soumas, is NOT. I am honestly having a hard time believing why I have to explain why he cannot be trusted after the mess he left in Odessa. (Backstory: Soumas tried this same thing in Washington State. He lasted less than a year and left more than $400,000 in clean-up costs that were paid by WA taxpayers through the EPA’s superfund program) Not only that, but they owe thousands in unpaid taxes and $1.6 million in unpaid canola seeds.
Allowing Soumas to come to Port Westward sounds like a relationship built in hell. I mean, talk about red flags. It does not compute that someone can have a track record like that and be welcomed here with open arms and practically a red carpet.
What happens if/when this all fails again, this time, in our backyard? I can tell you what will happen. NEXT Renewables will adapt in order to survive. And that likely means switching back to crude oil. We cannot do this again. This is all a resounding no from me.
8. There is much talk about affordable housing in Columbia County as of late. What does that mean to you? Is it a problem and what remedies would you recommend if so?
First off, let’s define “affordable housing” so that we are all working with the same understanding; affordable housing means that no more than 30% of a household’s income goes towards housing.
Yes, lack of affordable housing is a serious problem in Columbia County. In 2017, the county had a deficit of 1,900 housing units for low-income families. Additionally, more than 50% of all renters and 25% of homeowners were paying more than they can afford. Personally, I know many people in Columbia County who are forced to make a choice between paying rent and paying for prescriptions, food, and daycare.
Our county is growing and the need for more affordable housing is growing with it. Between OMIC and the opening of the new PCC campus, there is going to be an urgent need for more options to be available than what we currently have.
We need to use our authority as County Commissioners to change the codes that allow for a wider variety of housing types. Single family detached homes account for over 80% of our housing structure and for most, those are the most out of reach. It is time to turn our attention to more mixed-use development.
9. There is a lot of talk and several initiatives regarding tourism in Columbia County. What is your vision of tourism in Columbia County?
The capacity for growth with tourism in Columbia County is just extraordinary. According to a recent study, the data shows that “Columbia County has one of the lowest rates in visitor spending per capita in the state.” That is really disappointing, considering what we have to offer. We need to be doing a much better job reaching potential visitors to come see what gem we actually have here, especially outdoor enthusiasts.
My vision is that Columbia County gets the recognition it deserves. I have several friends who commute here to exercise since it’s not as crowded as the Columbia River Gorge or even Portland’s Forest Park. It is by sheer word of mouth that they decided to stay after their workout for a hard-earned beer and meal.
I believe the biggest deterrent that keeps us from reaching our potential is that we are getting in our own way. For one, there is the perpetuation of the myth that tourism yields minimum wage jobs. Then, are some who simply do not want visitors. Interestingly enough, those are also usually the people who do not want to pay more taxes, and I would advocate that you cannot have it both ways.
10. Last November the County adopted a study called "Fiscal Sustainability in Columbia Count: A Path Forward." This study projects a budget shortfall of approximately $30 million for basic services for the County over 5 year beginning in FY 2021 and an additional $42 million for high priority projects over the same period. The document also suggests various funding sources for this projected shortfalls. Could you please comment on these projected shortfalls?
I think the Fiscal Sustainability Report was thoughtfully written and provided an accurate (albeit grim) landscape of all the ways we are chronically underfunded as a county. I do not have problems with the report itself, other than grave concern over why we are only learning about a $30M+ funding gap now?
The biggest problem I have is what has been done with the report since its creation: Nothing. Zero. Zilch. On page 2, it reads “Because the community must choose this path, this report provides a framework to an improved fiscal situation while describing the tradeoffs it requires. County Commissioners look forward to vetting this product with the rest of the community.” When was “community vetting” going to happen, considering this report came out 6 months ago? When a finished product like this is not taken into the community, it becomes an empty investment, something that sits on a shelf while the window of meaningful collaboration with residents passes us right on by. Taxpayers deserve better.
I believe that Covid-19 is teaching us some remarkable things that have taken some recommendations in this report and pushed them straight to the front of the line: Broadband and Public Health.