If the latest campaign contributions are any indication, then the hot Nov. 6 election race to watch in Curry County is for the Position 2 seat for county commissioner, where Democrat Lucie La Bonté and Republican David Brock Smith are running neck-and-neck in spending.
According to the Oregon Secretary of State Elections Division, as of last Friday, Smith had garnered $5,795 in cash contributions, compared to La Bonté’s $5,779.
On the other side of the Curry County Board of Commissioners ballot, Republican Greg Empson has taken in $1,825 to his contender, Susan Brown’s, $1,660. Those two are vying for Position 3 in the commissioner race.
The victors of each race this November will join Commissioner David Itzen on the board in January – and face a daunting agenda in 2013.
Candidates pay a $50 filing fee to record their contributions and expenditures as required by law. They have 30 days from each transaction – money contributed or funds spent – to record it online. When the election is six weeks away, that deadline is shortened to every seven days.
They pay an additional $600 – or collect 200 signatures – to get in the state Voter Pamphlet.
Curry County commission seats are nonpartisan. Candidate funds include monies garnered for the May primary and can be used for both that and the Nov. 6 general election.
Ballots will be mailed to voters Friday.
Nothing unusual stands out in any of the candidates’ filings with the state. Three of them – Empson, Smith and La Bonté – are, on paper, even running in the red as of Friday, although each expects that to change as last-minute contributions come in and bills are paid.
According to the state website, secure.sos.state.or.us/orestar, Empson saved $7,500 – a contribution from his friend and neighbor Tim Tuttle – from the primary, so his campaign fund balance stands at $9,164. The report filed with the state shows he made 11, $500 payments and one $250 payment to his campaign finance manager during the primary.
Brown had, as of Friday, $1,660 in contributions, and $1,921 in expenditures. But funds left over from the primaries left her campaign coffers at $75. Her largest contribution was $500 from her campaign manager Pattie Cook, which she planned to post Tuesday.
LaBonté has contributions as little as $20, with the largest being a $1,000 donation from her mother, Katheryn La Bonté, and a $500 donation each from Norman Martin, a freelance writer with the Curry County Reporter and Portside RV Park, Inc., in Brookings, whose owners appreciate the work she’s done with fisheries in the area, she said.
LaBonté loaned money from her personal account to her campaign, giving the impression that the campaign “owes” someone money. If she doesn’t make up that deficit through contributions, she’ll have to take a loss in her personal account.
La Bonté asked for no contributions to help with her primary race, saying it “needs to be a bare bones government, so this will be a bare bones campaign.”
Her challenger, Smith, has raised $5,795 in contributions as of Friday, and had $238 remaining from the primaries, totalling a net of $6,033.
Some of his contributions include six totalling $5,000 in cash and two in-kind contributions valued at $727, both from his father, Frank Smith. Another in-kind donation of $730 was reported from Port and Starboard Enterprises, Smith’s business. And Monday, he planned to report another $3,000 in donations, of which $2,500 is from his mother.
“It’s not cheap to run a campaign,” he said. “It’s grueling. But I love the process. I get to get out and talk with people around the county, hear their concerns and ideas. That’s what’s so great about the process. The people you meet – those are the people you’re going to represent.”
What they’ve done
The money spent to run a campaign to get elected is not a lot of money for any candidate, at the local level, and yet the public will likely debate about how much of it can buy what for whom.
Most expenditures by all candidates went to advertising, signs, brochures and other campaign-related items.
La Bonté said she based the amount of money she strived to collect based on that of a former county commissioner’s election expenses from the 1990s.
“I think $3,000 or $4,000 is a reasonable amount to spend for commissioner in Curry County,” she said. “It’s the same amount of money that I spent in the 2000 election. I never spend more than I get in contributions. I’m so conservative with it; I’m not wasting it.”
She’s done what all the others have – signage, advertising – and made herself known in the community by attending events and going door-to-door.
“People remember when you knock on their door,” she said. “I feel good about it. I don’t have the biggest signs, or all the best places, but it has helped going around talking to people.”
Empson said he wouldn’t have done anything differently in getting the word out.
“I have a dozen large signs prominently placed, there are no more debates, no more forums; it’s kind of a wait-and-see,” he said. “Let the chips fall where they may.”
Brown said she’s been doing everything “as cheaply as possible – no advertising, just grass roots. A lot of things, I’ve been paying for out of my personal pocket, too.”
She didn’t pay the $600 to get her name in the voter’s pamphlet, either, instead opting to collect the necessary signatures.
“There shouldn’t be a lot of money to throw around,” Brown said. “We’ve been frugal here, and we need to be frugal at the county – be the most effective with the least amount of money.”
Why do it?
Many wonder why anyone would want to serve on the commission when the three-member board will undoubtedly face difficult decisions in these economically strapped times.
Empson believes the current commission hasn’t done enough to affect change.
“I don’t see any changes going on here,” Empson said. ‘I’ve been here nine years, and nothing has changed. It sounds very trite, but I think I can help. I think I can give something back – help the county get back on its feet. I think they’re just treading water, and I don’t think we can tread water anymore.”
Smith, who is running on the platform “Put the Unity back in Community,” said it will take hard work by all to turn the county around.
“It’s sounds corny, but it’s because I want to make a difference, Smith said. “It’s going to take all of us to work together to solve our problems, but we can do it. Through all my endeavors, I’ve gathered the experience to do the job, and the time is right for all these plans to move forward.”
La Bonté cites her experience as a county commissioner as what’s needed to get the county back to stability, but noted that others might have other motives.
“Some people do it to move up (to state politics),” she said. “Others do it because they really care. I worry that it will take too long for someone to learn the ropes. It takes awhile to learn those things. If the county was doing OK, it wouldn’t matter as much.”
Brown hopes to eke everything she can out of both her campaign dollars and those at the county level.
“The county’s got financial problems,” Brown said. “We have to be really careful with the county’s money and not blow it on trivial things. If I can squeeze a dollar out of a dime, why not? That’s how we’ve been running my campaign. It’s the way I work.”
More information about candidates and their finances can be obtained at www./secure.sos.state.or.us/orestar.