The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

Retired sheriff challenges incumbent commissioner--Gene Strong


September 13, 2018

Diana Zimmerman

Former sheriff Gene Strong announced his interest in being a write-in candidate for county commissioner about two weeks before the primary.

According to former Wahkiakum County Sheriff Gene Strong, four years ago he became a write-in candidate for county commissioner in a race against incumbent Blair Brady, somewhat unintentionally.

This time around, it is his decision to run. After considering the encouragement he has received from friends and the long talk he had with his wife, Strong decided to announce his candidacy two weeks before the primary.

"I guess I decided to run because so many friends called and wanted me to," Strong said. "If that is what the people want, then I'll run. I'm not doing it for any self serving purposes, it's for the people. They are dissatisfied with various things going on. Being in public office as I was for 20 years as sheriff and just serving people and doing what the people want, I thought about it, okay, that's what I would do. If people elect me then I'm there to serve them, listen to them, communicate with them, and try to do the best to serve our county and our communities."

Strong cited a few issues on his mind, like the timber and fishing industries, communication, and planning, but when pressed for priorities he was reticent, saying, "As commissioner I would be one of three. I've got to be able to work with the other two."

"Many people feel the commissioners are not representing the commercial fisherman as well as they could be," Strong said. "People are not happy about how the state is managing our timber and not all the commissioners are listening to the people and taking a stand with the state. I understand that timber industries get a better return on their timber than we do. Why? Why is our timber held so long before it is logged, to where it can no longer be utilized at local mills? Why is that occurring and what can we do about it?"

"We're working on Puget Island as far as sand, but what about Altoona Pillar Rock? What about County Line Park? Puget Island is one area, and it certainly needs it. But I think we have other areas in the county where we need to be talking to people and looking at that."

"Is there something we could do to address the flooding in Grays River that impacts a lot of people? Do we have a plan to address the roads that get flooded in out there? Maybe it's not something we could do right away, but if we have a plan and state or federal money becomes available we need to be prepared to be able to say yes, we have a plan."

"You have to be proactive. You have to expand your paradigm. What can I do? What should we be doing? I think it's terrible to see people flooded in numerous times a year, when it's difficult or almost impossible to get emergency response vehicles in to them. That shouldn't be."

While working as an emergency manager in Clatsop County, Strong said he brought various entities together to build plans and prepare for emergencies and disasters.

"When one hit in 2007," Strong said, "we knew each other, we communicated, we were able to work well together."

It's something he finds lacking in Wahkiakum County.

"I think there is a lot of dissatisfaction with how the commissioners seem to be working, or a portion of them are, in somewhat of a vacuum with the other elected officials in the rest of the county, such as the fire districts, the port districts, and other things like that. They need to be communicating."

"I want to bring people together, communicate, and build bridges, especially at the local level," Strong said. "I believe that as commissioner, you should be building these bridges before issues occur, before problems happen so that when you come together you're not strangers and have to have a turf war first before you settle in solving problems."

When asked about the budget, Strong called himself conservative, but said that he would want to do the best he could for county employees.

"We can't pay them to the level of other jurisdictions," he said, "but we can make it the most pleasurable spot to work, to try and provide them what we can. This is a small county. This is my friends and family. I think it is important to treat them with respect and do the best you can."

Strong has some ideas about utilizing assets around the county, including the fairgrounds in Skamokawa.

"How can we put that to better use?" he asked. "How can we have more events going on there so it's building some revenues to make improvements to it?"

One of his ideas is to create more RV hookups as overflow for Skamokawa Vista Park.

"We have a lot of great assets," Strong said. "I'm meeting people who are moving here from all over the place. They did their research and this is where they wanted to retire to or to live. Let's capitalize on that. Let's make this a place where people come on vacation, where they camp."

"Sometimes we as commissioners need to think outside the box," he said. "What do we have? One of the most wonderful communities in the state. Let's sell that."

Strong said he has a bachelor degree in criminal justice and is a certified emergency manager in Oregon. He also has executive level certification in law enforcement in Washington. He has served in law enforcement for 40 years, including 10 years in Clatsop County and 20 years as Wahkiakum County Sheriff.


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