The first time Dawn Lesley ran against Lane County Commissioner Jay Bozievich, she lost by 74 votes.
That was 2014, and she says she didn’t have any political experience before running. But she was preaching about the importance of democracy to her son and was unhappy with the leadership of her Lane County commissioner, Jay Bozievich.
“Elected officials were hesitant to endorse me, and people didn’t know if I was credible,” she says. “I showed a lot of people that I was credible because they told me, ‘It’s hard to beat an incumbent,’ and lo and behold, he was 17 votes over 50 percent, so it almost went to a fall runoff.”
Eight years later, Lesley says she’s running for the west Lane County commissioner seat for the May 2022 primary election with the credibility she’s earned — likely again against the incumbent Bozievich, who is still in the seat and is the most seasoned commissioner on the Lane County Board of County Commissioners. As the county continues to grapple with issues such as the climate crisis and the rural-urban divide, she says Bozievich isn’t providing the needed leadership and is entrenched in partisan politics.
The West Lane County district includes Florence, Veneta, Elmira and Junction City.
“We know the climate models are showing increased flooding, so Florence has a lot of issues potentially facing them,” Lesley says. “You don’t want someone in a leadership position who spends his free time on a radio show criticizing public employees up and down the list from Kate Brown all the way down, voting against a $15 minimum wage, voting against an affordable housing plan.” Bozievich has a weekly internet radio show called The Boze Knoze Show.
Lesley works as an environmental engineer, but she says she doesn’t have a solution for everything. If elected, she’d bring together the community to talk with each other in a solutions-oriented way, she says. Bozievich isn’t committed to listening to the west Lane County community, she adds, and in fact takes a hardline stance that the government shouldn’t provide the people with services.
First elected in 2010, Bozievich is sometimes the lone dissenter at county commissioner meetings under the current left-leaning board. This includes a resolution declaring racism a public health crisis because he said it was virtue signaling, as well as the 2021 budget.
At a June 22 meeting, Bozievich said the budget didn’t include money for the Association of O&C Counties (AOCC), a timber advocacy group.
“He voted against the budget for the sake of an $80,000 line item out of an $800 million budget,” Lesley says about membership for the AOCC. “What kind of leadership is that?”
Lesley says Lane County and the city of Eugene are working better together than they have ever before on issues such as affordable housing, but Bozievich is fighting every forward-moving solution.
“I haven’t heard him provide a positive solution to anything in eight years,” she says. “The last good thing I heard come from that guy was structurally balancing the county’s budget.” However, Lesley credits County Administrator Steve Mokrohisky with actually balancing the county’s budget so it wouldn’t rely on cash reserves to pay for services.
And what Lesley says she’s concerned about is the narratives that Bozievich has promoted about state officials governing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When Jay Bozievich goes around grandstanding — and I mean, grandstanding — on his radio show calling Oregon Health Authority our ‘overlords’ making us wear masks to save lives?” Lesley says. “That sort of language has no business in leadership. That’s the opposite of responsible leadership when we’re facing a pandemic.”
Bozievich has changed his tone a bit, taking to social media to recommend people get vaccinated and wear a mask as the Delta variant continues to stress the Pacific Northwest’s hospital capacities.
With a recent dire warning from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Lesley says the county needs to act fast on cutting down on greenhouse gas emissions.
“The county has direct control over emissions from transportation to purchasing departments. I want to roll up my sleeves and work hard to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions but also be resilient,” Lesley says. “We need people ready to acknowledge that it’s real and work on it.”
She adds that the county also needs to start preparing for climate change-related natural disasters, events that could be more than just intense wildfires and heat. “We have to invest in community resilience so people don’t get stranded in Florence, so we can have resilient community networks and positive community conversations, thinking ahead, looking ahead, seeing what we can do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and be more resilient.”
The pandemic also showed another issue for the rural community: internet connectivity. Lesley says rural broadband is available mostly for those who have money despite being a necessary utility for businesses, students and for everyday use. “We all saw how the rural schoolchildren and the private citizens suffered with internet issues during the pandemic,” she says. “It’s time that we recognize that internet access is a basic need — like roads, electricity and telephone service — and I’d like to provide some leadership on that.”
But one issue in local politics — as well as national — that was present in 2014, and still is today, is how divisive narratives are, Lesley says. “We have these challenges facing us, and if we can’t work together, we’re not going to create good solutions,” she says.
And west Lane County district voters are tired of party politics, she adds.
“The largest percentage of voters in the district are nonaffiliated and other,” she says. “There’s a reason for that. There’s a very strong independent streak in this district and I respect that and admire that. I said in 2014, and I believe it to this day, that we agree on more than what we disagree on — and people are disgusted with partisan politics.”
This article has been updated.
A previous version mistakenly reported that Bozievich voted against the 2021 Lane County budget because of AOC. He voted against the budget since it didn’t have money for AOCC.