Joann Ernst has had a turbulent career; but turbulent or not, she has proven she can stand her ground. Now, she’s entering the fray for the East Lane County Commissioner race to change the perception of civic engagement in the county. “I think Lane County has lost the trust of the people because they don’t seem to have a voice. I’d like to bring that voice back,” Ernst says. Kevin Matthews and Jose Ortal have also indicated they will file for the May 2014 primary.
Ernst has been a vocal opponent of moves to expand forestry, most notably in her protest of proposed old-growth logging by Seneca Jones Timber, which also owns the controversial west Eugene biomass burning plant. “Cutting down trees doesn’t solve anything. I’m taking a couple of steps back and looking at why [the county] needs that revenue in the first place,” Ernst says.
Her stand on logging nearly cost her the EWEB commissioner position, which was also threatened shortly after her arrest for marijuana possession — she was given probation and told the judge at the time that the pot was for medicinal purposes and that she had later obtained an Oregon Medical Marijuana card. The judge ordered the police to return her grow equipment.
When asked repeatedly to consider a resignation, she maintained her post and even went on to win an excessive force lawsuit against the city of Eugene related to a violent police raid of her home.
Asked if the arrest would hurt her campaign, Ernst says, “I don’t think it will hurt me. That trouble happened in my home because I have a son who deals with addictive issues. He’s clean now, but it made me relatable to people here. This is a problem we have, and how do we help?”
Ernst was recently redistricted into incumbent Faye Stewart’s district. Stewart has been the focus of much criticism for issues such as the destruction of Parvin Butte, the push for water rights on the McKenzie River by the McDougal Bros., and the rezoning and revamping of Goshen. In particular, Stewart’s ongoing support for an unfettered forest industry has been a heated issue.
Ernst says she wants to look at boosting other local industries, pointing out that with the amount of hazelnut production here, the county could benefit from a hazelnut processing plant. “Why do we ship all of our hazelnuts out of state?” she asks.
Ernst has more than just EWEB experience under her belt. She is currently a member of the Lane Council of Government Budget Committee and has been for the last three years, and she has served on such committees as the Solid Waste Advisory Committee. She has a Facebook page at http://wkly.ws/1j4.