Rep. Tim Freeman, who has served in the Oregon Legislature for the past four years and spent five years on the Roseburg City Council, said today he will run for Douglas County commissioner.
This morning, Freeman, 48, told The News-Review he plans to campaign for the nonpartisan seat held by two-term Commissioner Joe Laurance. The current term finishes at the end of 2014.
“I feel that with my experience at the state level, at the local level and as a businessman, this will allow me to work to meet the changing needs of Douglas County residents,” Freeman said.
With continuing uncertainty over county finances, whoever is elected will have a tough job, Freeman said. He said he believes he is best suited to make tough decisions about the county’s future.
“I see this need to have someone with a unique background and education to serve at the local level,” Freeman said. “People who are willing to put their name on the line have to have a passion to serve people. I still have that passion.”
Laurance, 63, has not announced whether he will seek a third four-year term. He did not return a call this morning seeking comment.
Freeman, the owner of the Garden Valley Shell station in Roseburg, is the first announced candidate for the May 2014 primary. He has scheduled a press conference at 8 a.m. Monday in Room 310 at the Douglas County Courthouse to formally announce his candidacy.
If Laurance does seek a third term, Dean Byers, chairman of the Douglas County Democratic Party, said he thinks Freeman would be in for a tough fight. He said Laurance has done a good job and has wide support throughout the county.
“I think Tim would have a hard time unseating Joe,” Byers said.
Laurance was re-elected in May 2010, winning 59 percent of the vote in defeating challengers Jerry Gindlesperger and Monte Muirhead.
Freeman said he will not actively campaign for the county commissioner position until after the legislative session finishes at the end of June. He said he would also refrain from campaigning during the Legislature’s monthlong short session next February.
The Republican lawmaker begins the race with $43,206 leftover from his 2012 legislative campaign. He said he will be able to use that money for the commissioner’s race. He said he would not accept campaign contributions during the session, unless he receives the blessing of his legislative colleagues in Salem.
Legislative rules prevent lawmakers from seeking or accepting campaign cash while the Legislature is in session, but they are silent about donations made for a different office.
Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, was allowed to collect campaign cash while serving as speaker of the state House and running for the U.S. Senate seat he now holds. Freeman said he will likely refrain form soliciting donations while in session.
Freeman said his top priorities as county commissioner would be to fund the sheriff’s office and the district attorney’s office and come up with a solution for a shortfall in timber revenue.
Freeman pledged to continue fully serving residents of District 2 even as he runs for commissioner.
“I will make sure they are served well during the remainder of my term,” he said.
Byers said this morning he was not surprised by Freeman’s decision to jump into the race.
“I expected that,” Byers said. “I don’t support him for county commissioner and would not like to see all three commissioners be Republicans.”
The county commissioner positions became nonpartisan when Laurance was first elected. Still, Laurance is a Democrat while fellow Commissioners Doug Robertson and Susan Morgan are Republicans.
The Democratic Party will recruit a candidate to run for the District 2 legislative seat held by Freeman, Byers said. That position will also be up for election in the 2014 election cycle.
“I thought the best opportunity to fill that seat (with a Democrat) was when it was first vacated by Susan Morgan,” Byers said. “We didn’t even field a candidate last year.”
Morgan spent a decade in the Legislature before joining the board of commissioners by defeating former Commissioner Marilyn Kittelman in 2008.
Freeman defeated Winchester property appraiser Harry McDermott, a Democrat, when he first ran for the Legislature in 2008 and again in 2010.
The current salary for county commissioners is $75,941 a year. Legislators are paid $1,801 a month, plus $123 per diem during legislative sessions.
• You can reach reporter John Sowell at 541-957-4209 or by email at email@example.com.