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Candidates compete to represent Eugene as Lane County Commissioners

Chris Lehman
From left to right: KLCC reporter Nathan Wilk; District 3 candidates Laurie Trieger and Grace Widdicombe; District 4 candidates Pat Farr and Zach Mulholland.

Both of the Lane County Commissioners who represent Eugene are up for re-election this month. And each of them is facing a challenge for their seat.

KLCC's Rachael McDonald spoke with KLCC reporter Nathan Wilk, who sat down with all four of the candidates to learn more.

To start, Nathan, what’s actually at stake in these races?

Rachael, here are two seats up for grabs here, and that’s out of just five total on the Board of Lane County Commissioners.

That means if either incumbent loses, it could cause a significant political shift. This past term, we’ve seen multiple 3 to 2 votes from the Board.

Also, commissioners say the county may face budget shortfalls in this next term. So these could be the people deciding what services to keep and what to cut.

The candidates all identify housing, homelessness and healthcare as priority issues. But they also diverge on several key points.

District 3 includes South Eugene and parts of North Eugene. What can you tell us about the incumbent there?

Laurie Trieger is running her first re-election campaign after winning office in 2020.

In her next term, she hopes to follow through on projects she’s worked on so far. That includes a mobile crisis program similar to CAHOOTS, and a stabilization center meant to deflect people from jail.

“We're making really important progress on initiatives around how we fund and deliver essential services for unhoused folks, for lower income folks to get into housing," said Trieger.

To create more housing, Trieger says the county should be funding infrastructure in smaller communities, where it has a larger say over development than in cities.

Moving forward, she also says she’ll fight to secure more state and federal funding for county services.

Trieger has been endorsed by the Democratic Party of Oregon, both of the state’s U.S. senators, and the Oregon American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations. She’s also received tens of thousands of dollars from Eugene Realtors.

Who is Trieger's challenger?

Grace Widdicombe is the owner of Grateful Nuts Homes, a house-flipping business in Eugene.

She wants to fight homelessness by increasing the housing supply. To her, that means simplifying the permitting process and loosening height restrictions.

“I believe in equitable housing," said Widdicombe. "Not just making housing available that is multifamily and dense in Eugene or incorporated cities, but getting housing for all."

Widdicombe has criticized Trieger for opposing further development in the county’s floodway. She says landowners there should have the right to make their own decisions.

She also opposes a waste-processing facility that Trieger voted for, citing costs to the county.

It doesn’t appear that Widdicombe has been endorsed by any organizations or government officials so far.

Let’s move to District 4, which includes much of North Eugene as well as West Eugene. Who’s the incumbent there?

It’s Pat Farr, who’s been a Commissioner since 2013. And he’s running on that experience.

“Homelessness is an evolving and dynamic issue. We didn't have fentanyl, for instance, a number of years ago," said Farr. "And my work in poverty and homelessness helps me be better informed for making the decisions as they come forward.”

Farr says addressing homelessness requires prevention, rehousing, and temporary shelter.

He also says the County needs to allow for additional dwellings on rural properties, and use its land within Eugene to provide more dense urban housing.

On land use issues, Farr says environmental restrictions should only exceed state law in careful and region-specific cases.

Politically, he’s sometimes the tie-breaker between the liberal and conservative-leaning members of the board. His endorsements include the Eugene Chamber of Commerce, as well as unions for local police, firefighters and care workers.

Like Trieger, he’s also received tens of thousands of dollars from Eugene Realtors.

Who is Pat Farr’s challenger? 

Zach Mulholland is an environmental policy researcher who works with Beyond Toxics. He also serves on the Board of Lane Community College.

His endorsements include the state Democratic Party, Oregon’s League of Conservation Voters, and several labor unions.

To prevent budget cuts, Mullholland has proposed a homelessness services bond and the creation of a new tax district.

He also hopes to support the cleanup of Eugene’s J.H. Baxter plant, and prevent similar acts of pollution in the future.

“We've been working to pass policies to make sure that we don't have new large industrial toxic facilities located near homes in Eugene," said Mulholland. "And unfortunately, the County Commission has largely been asleep at the wheel on this issue.”

Mulholland has accused his opponent of conflicts of interest, pointing to Farr’s campaign contributors.

That includes a developer who’s put proposals before the County Commission. Farr has also received money from a plywood company that is a significant local polluter, according to risk screenings from Cleaner Air Oregon.

Farr has responded, saying his land-use authorizations are based only on the legal record. And he says he’s drawn diverse support because of his long-standing work in the community.

What happens next?

With just two candidates in each race, there is no virtually no chance of a runoff. So the winners of this month’s election will be set to take office starting next year.

Nathan Wilk joined the KLCC News Team in 2022. He is a graduate from the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication. Born in Portland, Wilk began working in radio at a young age, serving as a DJ and public affairs host across Oregon.
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