By RAELYNN RICARTE
News staff writer
March 18, 2006
Parkdale orchardist Ron Rivers woke up on Saturday morning with no idea that he would soon be running for the top seat in local government.
The Logan Road resident was unaware that his name already topped numerous e-mail lists of potential write-in candidates being circulated by angry citizens.
It wasn’t until Rivers sat down to read the Hood River News that he learned of the “11th hour switcheroo” performed by two officials. Over a steaming cup of coffee, he perused the article about Hood River County Commission Chair Rodger Schock’s late-hour withdrawal of candidacy for a third term in office.
He became concerned about the political implications of District 2 Commissioner Maui Meyer immediately filing for the position.
Then his telephone rang and an irate Camille Hukari, mid-valley orchardist and political activist, was on the other end of the line. She informed Rivers that the action taken by Schock and Meyer might not have been illegal but, in her opinion, it was unethical.
Since Schock and Meyer waited until about 45 minutes before the 5 p.m. filing deadline on March 7, Hukari contended they effectively eliminated additional political competition.
Resident Paul Nevin had also filed his second bid for a two-year term as the at-large chair; Nevin ran as a write-in in 2004.
Hukari said if Schock had announced his intent to step down even one day earlier, it would have opened the field for other possible candidates.
She told Rivers that most people are hesitant to challenge an incumbent because that person has name recognition — but they will toss a hat in the ring with other “unknowns.” She strongly believed that voters were denied the opportunity to maximize their choices of candidates — and that was “just plain wrong.”
“I thought it was outrageous that those two decided for whatever reason that they had the right to chose Rodger’s successor,” said Hukari. “I’m a voter, I’m a taxpayer and I want to have a say about who’s going to represent me on the County Commission.”
Rivers, 62, agreed completely with Hukari’s protests and the need to provide citizens with a greater voice in the race. With the full support of his wife of 40 years, Charlene, the former high school English teacher decided to launch a write-in campaign. He is aware that it has historically been difficult for a candidate to win when his/her name does not appear on a ballot — but he also believes that victory is possible.
“I’m not a knight in shining armor riding in on a white horse, but I believe in democracy. And these guys just did an end run around democracy that disenfranchised every voter in Hood River County,” said Rivers.
Meyer, 39, was not rattled about having Rivers mount a campaign against him. In fact, he referred to the new contender as an “outstanding candidate.”
“Ron is clearly respected in the valley. It’s impossible not to welcome his candidacy with open arms. I’m looking forward to engaging him, listening to him and learning from him. I support his write-in campaign and welcome him and his ideas,” said Meyer.
He said if Schock’s last minute decision to withdraw from the race resulted in more citizen involvement, then the greater good had been served.
“At the end of the day, I can’t unring that bell. I filed because there was an absence of anyone else to fill a vacancy,” said Meyer.
Schock, 62, said it was difficult to make the decision to give up the duties that he has performed for almost four years. But some health problems and the lure of a less stressful retirement life finally convinced him that the end of 2006 would be a good time to give up his political career.
He told Hukari that he had been discussing his dilemma with Meyer for days but did not reach the decision to step down until the afternoon of March 7.
“If I had known that Ron had an interest in the office I would not have filed or twisted Maui’s arm to file in my place,” said Schock. “Ron is a great guy; he will make a great candidate. And, if successful in his run, a quality county commission chair.”
Rivers questions why Schock only chose to discuss his decision with Meyer, instead of also alerting other potential candidates who had expressed interested in the office. However, he has become increasingly excited about being in the race – however he got there.
“I’ll admit that it will be difficult to be a write-in candidate but I’m up to the challenge and the momentum is building,” he said.
This week, Rivers signed up officers on the Ron Rivers for County Chair committee.
Hukari has agreed to serve as treasurer and Paul Cummings will split the duties of co-chair with Allen Moore. Fund raising efforts will be led by C.J. Woodward and Julie Benton takes on the duties of secretary. River’s publicity team is comprised of Debra Laraway, Gary Willis and Brian Steeves.
“I’m the furthest thing from a politician that you’d want to see, said Rivers. “But the bottom line is that public service is really all about integrity and trust and I can do that.”
If he can keep Meyer or Nevin from gaining 50 percent plus one of the vote in the May 16 primary election, Rivers will also have his name listed on the November ballot. But, thinking optimistically, he hopes to beat out his challengers and take 50 percent plus one of the vote himself.
“I’m not going into this with an agenda — and I don’t have any baggage. I am just an honest and outspoken guy who believes that we need to do politics the right way in Hood River County,” said Rivers.
In addition to growing pears for 36 years on their 160-acre property, the Ron and Charlene Rivers owned City Market in downtown Hood River for four years before recently selling the business.
Rivers believes that serving on the board of directors for the Downtown Business Association has given him a good perspective for both rural and urban issues, which will be beneficial as the head of a commission that serves all citizens.
He invites anyone with questions about his candidacy or his campaign platform to call (541) 308-6326.