Yamhill County chairman faces recall in Tuesday’s election
Yamhill County voters decide on Tuesday to remove a county commissioner, after accusations that his deeply partisan politics cost the county money and hurt employee morale.
County Chairwoman Lindsay Berschauer, whose 2020 election gave the three-member Yamhill County Board of Commissioners a more conservative slant, faces losing her seat if voters approve the measure. This is the latest battle in an ongoing fight between Liberal and Conservative blocs in Yamhill County, and has its roots in the demise of a multi-modal route.
Republican political consultant and member of the Timber Unity group, Berschauer ran for the board in 2020 largely on a platform of killing off the controversial Yamhelas Westsider Trail planned for a 12-mile stretch of land that once housed railway.
The track had been under construction for years and Berschauer was elected by aligning himself with a group of farmers who claimed it would violate personal property rights. Opponents challenging the project had already convinced the state Land Use Appeal Board that the county had failed to adequately answer questions about how it would affect adjacent farmers.
Berschauer and fellow Yamhill County Commissioner Mary Starrett, another staunch conservative, used their majority on the board to end the county’s pursuit of the project early last year. The county lost grant funding for the project, and Starrett and Berschauer agreed that the county would pay tens of thousands of dollars in opponents’ legal fees.
“That’s a main driving force behind it,” Berschauer said Monday. “But also, the progressive group of activists in this community kind of saw this as an opportunity to overturn the 2020 election and replace me with someone who is not just pro-trail, but progressive. in a sense.”
Berschauer not only voted decisively to end the county’s pursuit of the trail, she openly and aggressively accused county employees who had worked on the project of falsifying facts to advance the case. Proponents of the recall argue that Berschauer committed two unforgivable sins: She wasted money by abandoning the project and exhibited a toxic brand of partisan politics unbecoming of a public servant.
“We expect to be represented from this position in a nonpartisan way,” said Lynette Shaw, a former Democratic legislative candidate who helped lead the recall campaign in concert with other liberal factions in the county. “It’s been a very conservative county for years and years and years. We’ve always had a conservative board and no one tried to call anyone back. [else].”
The reasons recall supporters want Berschauer gone extend far beyond the trail.
They say Berschauer lost millions of taxpayer dollars by approving lower payments to the county by a company that operates a McMinnville landfill, another issue in which she joined Starrett.
Recall supporters suggest she doxed Shaw, the recall campaign manager, by circulating contact information that was publicly posted on the state’s campaign finance website.
They argue that Berschauer helped delay the distribution of federal COVID-19 funding by instead drawing his attention to partisan politics such as refusing to enforce state gun control laws and preventing certain adolescents from getting vaccinated without parental consent.
And they suggest Berschauer could use his private consulting firm to raise money from entities that also have business before the county. Berschauer flatly denied that point and disputed the campaign’s other claims.
“I don’t run my political consulting business or [doing] any kind of side advice,” she said. ” I do not have time. It’s a full time job. »
Shaw and others acknowledge they have no evidence that Berschauer mixed his public and private work, but say they are suspicious based on Berschauer pointing to his private firm, Leona Consulting, as a source of income on public forms.
“The people of Yamhill County have spoken,” said the recall petition used to force Tuesday’s election. “Commissioner Berschauer’s extremism, fiscal mismanagement and bad faith representation are at odds with Yamhill County values. She must be remembered.
While supporters heralded the recall effort as a significant pushback against an extremist politician, their arguments lack the kind of outright malfeasance or criminal activity that has helped some past recalls succeed in Oregon.
Nor has Berschauer been hammered for the kind of racist language that prompted the recall of former Oregon Mayor Dan Holladay in 2020. Some claims made in that successful campaign focused on the type of good governance arguments that Berschauer’s enemies make.
The campaign to overthrow Berschauer is just the latest deeply controversial recall decision in Yamhill County.
In January, Newberg School District voters elected to retain two district board members in office. The two members, council chairman Dave Brown and vice-chairman Brian Shannon, are part of a conservative majority on the council that has enacted a new policy restricting “controversial” speeches by teachers, including hanging pride flags or Black Lives Matter placards, while in the Classroom. Both men also voted to fire the district superintendent without cause, prompting a response from state lawmakers.
Both men survived the recall attempt by about four points, in an election that saw a high turnout in the district.
On Tuesday morning, there were indications that Berschauer could also retain his seat. The latest tally of ballots counted by the Yamhill County Clerk’s Office showed registered Republicans, who outnumber Democrats in the county, turning out at a higher rate. It’s probably a positive sign for Berschauer, although early leads could be erased by late comebacks. It is also difficult to analyze thousands of ballots received from voters unaffiliated with either party.
As of late Monday, election officials had accepted ballots from more than 37% of the county’s 74,316 registered voters. If the election piques Newberg’s January recall interest, they could ultimately present the ballots of nearly 60% of voters.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Berschauer said. “The Republican vote has come back higher every day.”
But Shaw, with the recall campaign, argued that Democrats aren’t the only ones tired of Berschauer’s policies.
“We stood at the gates of thousands, tens of thousands of people,” she said. “People who voted for her feel cheated.”
Whether or not the recall was successful may not be clear until early results drop around 8 p.m. Tuesday. Last year, lawmakers passed a law requiring election officials to accept ballots up to a week after Election Day, provided they were postmarked on Election Day. Ballots must also be accepted if they have no postmark, which Yamhill County Clerk Brian Van Bergen said was quite common in the January recall election.
All of this adds a new degree of unpredictability to Tuesday’s vote, Van Bergen said.
“Throughout election night, it will and will seem really normal for the past 25 years of mail-in voting,” he said. “We don’t know what to expect as these ballots arrive in the mail after Election Day.”