Colleen Roberts was elected Jackson County commissioner in 2014 without opposition after winning the Republican primary. We did not endorse her in that primary, preferring her opponent, whom we considered better prepared for the job. Roberts is now seeking a second term, facing a challenge from Democrat Lanita Witt, a retired physician, farmer and rancher.
Witt demonstrates a thorough grasp of the problems facing the county, including inadequate jail space and lack of sufficient mental health and substance abuse treatment. Her experience managing timberland on her ranch property outside of Ashland gives her firsthand knowledge of the issues involved in addressing wildfire risk and smoke during the summer months.
Roberts, who ran her first campaign on a platform of opposing taxes and questioning federal authority to manage public land, hasn’t changed her views much in four years. She and Witt both support the need for a new county jail, but Roberts says she empathizes with public opposition to the taxes needed to pay for it.
Witt and Roberts both support efforts to thin overgrown forest stands to reduce fire risk. Witt emphasizes removing flammable understory, leaving large trees standing. She also proposes efforts to encourage new industry that can utilize small-diameter trees. Roberts favors more commercial harvest of timber from the former Oregon & California Railroad lands, which would mean revenue for the county. She notes that the county doesn’t get any income from forest stewardship projects. That’s true, but commercial logging alone isn’t the answer to restoring forest health and fire resiliency.
Both candidates see a need to encourage more affordable housing, but again differ on the role of government to accomplish that. Witt says she will vote for Ballot Measure 102, a constitutional amendment that passed the Legislature nearly unanimously and would allow local, voter-approved bond levies to help fund affordable housing in partnership with non-governmental organizations. Roberts is noncommittal, saying she is skeptical of using “public dollars for private projects.”
Witt has lived in Jackson County for more than 30 years, practicing medicine and operating an organic farm and ranch. Now retired, she says she wants to help find solutions to the problems of health care, mental health treatment and the criminal justice system.
We recommend voters choose Lanita Witt for county commissioner, Position 3.