Republican candidate Danielle Bethell is running for Marion County commissioner. (Courtesy/Danielle Bethell)

Name: Danielle Bethell

Age: 41

Home: Keizer

Employer/position: Keizer Chamber of Commerce, executive director

Years at current job: 4

Every time Danielle Bethell enters into a space, she takes on some kind of role.

In September, when wildfire evacuees were sent to the Oregon State Fairgrounds, Bethell said she put out a call to action through the Keizer Chamber of Commerce Facebook page for water, dog poop bags and pet food.

She spent that day moving the donations to the fairgrounds, but quickly realized there was a need for someone to help facilitate volunteers.  

“Then I spent literally six days at the fairgrounds facilitating that process,” Bethell said.

She coordinated volunteers, connected evacuees to resources and worked with two farm supply retailers for more donated goods, she said.

Bethell is running for Marion County Commissioner against Democrat Ashley Carson Cottingham of Salem and Libertarian William H. Johnson Jr., The winner replaces retiring commissioner Sam Brentano. The three Marion County commissioner seats have been held by Republicans since 1979.

But political ideology isn’t the only thing that define the two candidates vying for office. Bethell comes from a private sector background as executive director of the Keizer Chamber of Commerce while Cottingham comes from the public sector as the deputy director of the state Office of the Long-Term Care Ombudsman.

Bethell has been endorsed by all the current Marion County commissioners, District Attorney Paige Clarkson and several businesses and business groups throughout the county. Her opponent has been endorsed by several labor unions, Senate President Peter Courtney and Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek.

Commissioner Kevin Cameron said: “One of the most beneficial things a commissioner can do is convene people, bring people to the table.” He said Bethell has that quality.

When he went to the fairgrounds two days after evacuees started arriving, he saw Bethell managing the horse collection.

“She’s one of those people that she sees something, she’s not afraid to roll up her sleeves and get her hands dirty and do it herself, or find people to get it done and get it going,” Cameron said.

Homelessness

Bethell sees homelessness in Marion County as one that county government needs to utilize public-private partnerships to alleviate.

As a commissioner, Bethell said, she would listen to what homeless experts say are the leading causes of homelessness in the area and look where the gaps in services are.

Bethell, who experienced homelessness as a teen, said there’s a lack of services in the area and there have been since she was a child. She said the solution doesn’t necessarily lie in providing more county money toward homeless services.

“I don’t believe that it needs to be a government funded sole issue,” she said. “Sometimes it’s just education or access to services that exist now.”

She said there are factors contributing to homelessness beyond the lack of housing, such as a shortage of mental health providers or accountability for one’s self.

Bethell said she sees commissioners’ roles as bringing interested parties together to work toward a solution.

“It’s my job to get those people to the table to convene and work toward a solution. It’s not necessarily to have the solution. I’m just one person,” she said.

Asked what three specific proposals she plans to advance if elected to office, Bethell said she has no such agenda.

Economic recovery

Bethell said businesses need to reopen for the county to recover economically from Covid and the county needs to advertise that businesses are back in full operation.

She said government’s purpose is to educate businesses about resources already available to them, like the Chemeketa Small Business Development Center, MERIT or the Strategic Economic Development Corp.

Bethell said the county needs to devise a robust economic development program.

“More often it’s not regulation, it’s really a lack of wholistic approach to business management,” she said.

Wildfire recovery

Bethell said the county will have to determine what services are critical for the Santiam Canyon to recover in the long term and what money it can allocate for that work.

“Marion County can’t fund the recovery on their own,” she said. “For me, it’s how does the county sit at the table and determine what the priorities are for the community. There’s not a dollar amount you can throw on the wall to determine how successful the recovery effort is going to be.”

She said people think the wildfires stemmed from climate change, but she disagrees. Bethell said it was poor forest management that led to the devastation of the Santiam Canyon. She said the federal government should allow Marion County to control those federal lands.

“I would like to see the county to continue to apply the pressure and demand conversations with our state and federal partners,” she said.

Racism

Bethell said she believes systemic racism exists but hasn’t seen it personally in Marion County.

“I’m still waiting for the concept of systemic racism to be presented to me that shows me exactly how it exists here in Marion County,” she said.

Bethell said she recently attended a training on systemic racism in her role as a member of the Salem-Keizer School Board.

“We all have our mindset, our own upbringing, our own exposure. How do we go about removing the extreme emotion that’s being applied so people can come together and learn thoughtfully and reflect without judgment?” she said.

Working with others

Bethell said she would work with those who don’t agree with her by approaching their common humanity. She said people looking for long-term solutions do so because they deeply care and that should be the starting point to build relationships and earn people’s trust.

What works, she said, is “if we can all just see each other as humans entering into a space for the common good. Polarization is unacceptable and it’s unhelpful.”

CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS (Updated Saturday, Oct. 17)

Total contributions: $220,053

Total spent: $139,637

Top donors: Women's Leadership Coalition PAC, whose leaders are associated with Oregon Right to Life, $57,263, Davis Evenson, president of Davidson’s Masonry, $12,500; Tracie Evenson, owner of Salem Tennis and Swim Club $12,500; Emery and Sons Construction Group $10,000; Freres Timber $10,000; Siegmund Excavation & Construction $7,500; Allied Rock $7,500; Oregon Right to Life $7,500; Mountain West Investment Corp. $5,000; Commercial Property Resources $5,000.

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NOTE: Lary Tokarski, president of Mountain West Investment Corp., is a co-founder of Salem Reporter.

Correction: Republicans have been in control of the commission since 1979. An earlier version misstated the date.

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