By decisive margins, Wasco County Commissioner Rod Runyon was defeated by challenger Kathy Schwartz, and Commissioner Scott Hege held his seat against challenger Roy Justesen.
Schwartz received 58.8 percent of the vote to Runyon’s 40.9 percent (3,431 votes to 2,383.)
Hege won by an even wider margin, taking 66.8 percent of the vote to Justesen’s 32.6 percent (3,457 votes to 1,684.)
Schwartz thanked her supporters, saying, “I think it’s pretty obvious they worked really hard for me,” and lauded both her and Runyon’s campaigns for being positive. She thanked Runyon for his eight years of service and all his volunteer work, “which I hope he continues once he leaves office.”
She spoke to the Chronicle briefly Wednesday morning before heading off to a Wasco County budget meeting. “I’m just going to start on this learning journey I have, continue it.”
Schwartz, a registered nurse, retired from Mid-Columbia Medical Center last fall, where she was outpatient clinic nursing director. She headed the Wasco-Sherman Public Health Department for nine years, and worked there for 15.
Runyon could not be reached for comment Wednesday morning, since, fittingly given his campaign emphasis on his work with veterans, he was busy on the Run For The Wall, a memorial motorcycle ride to Washington DC in honor of veterans.
He did post a message on his Facebook page, saying, “Thanks to supporters so much. We ran into those who are about an agenda at the national level. Not about the accomplishments at the county level. Low voter turnout was the key. I am fine. God opens new doors. I continue to do the work I love through the end of the year. Today I am serving veterans and remember the MIA’s as I travel across America to DC for Memorial Day. Thank you all so much!”
Schwartz said the message of her campaign was wanting to have a more diverse county commission. “I really felt the board could be strengthened with my health and social service background since so many of the county services are related to social services.”
She is also only the second woman to serve on the commission in the 164-year history of the county. “Sherry Holliday was the first and I’m really proud to be following in her groundbreaking footsteps.”
Asked if she had a priority when she takes office next January, she said her interest will be in areas like senior services, public health, youth services, mental health, prevention, victim’s assistance, domestic violence, and housing.
She finds all the areas of county government interesting. “I’m really familiar with it, having worked there so long. I’ve met with most if not all of the department heads during the campaign. I think they’re an amazing group and I’m really excited to work with all of them.”
She said, “I think every one of their departments are interesting. I do have some things to learn and I’ll be spending the next seven months doing that.”
She noted that her dad, now 88, is a retired wounded police officer. He was shot in the head and lost his right eye when she was eight years old. Her uncle, his younger brother, was an officer killed in the line of duty when she was seven.
“So, you know, I have a bit of a calling for this work.”
Her father’s injury prompted her interest in becoming a nurse. She said of her dad, ‘He’s just so proud of me. He really understands what it means to step out and to serve.”
She said that during her campaign, she got a sense of the level of volunteering that happens in Wasco County. “It’s really what makes the communities buzz.”
She said of her campaign, which featured numerous signs, letters to the editor and digital and print advertising, was just how she works. “I was going to work really hard at it because I wanted to win. And that’s just how I approach my work always. I just went at it like I go at everything and it’s the same way I’m going to go at being a county commissioner, because I’m going to work really hard.”
She said she doesn’t mind the amount of meetings the job requires. “I’m one of those weird people, I like going to meetings. That’s how you make things happen, really, that’s how you make it go, so I’m good with it.”
Hege said it was gratifying, overwhelming and humbling to win the election.
“Most people don’t really understand how much you put yourself out there,” he said. “You put yourself out in a job interview situation with an entire constituency.”
He said he felt for the people that didn’t win. “I think the county’s doing well but I think we have a lot to do.” He said he’s previously been more focused on economic development in his role as county commissioner, but in the last few years has been much more involved in the health and public services side of county government.
“I think we have lots to do in that arena, and I hope we can make progress,” he said.
He said he was glad he got re-elected. “I’m grateful for the support from the county and I look forward to serving another four years.”
Justesen said, “I’m not dismayed by the results, I didn’t necessarily spend any money on a long campaign and I was running against a pretty tough opponent.”
“I would like to thank those who got out there and voted for me. I now feel an obligation to remain active in our local politics, and hope that my relative success encourages others to stand up and involve themselves more in our local issues,” he added.
“It is important to remember that far less than half the eligible voters turned out for this primary, which has decided two of the most influential positions in the county....We can do better.”
He congratulated both Hege and Schwartz.
“It is time to put the past behind, and step into a bright future,” he said.