Eugene Weekly : News : 1.28.10


Rust in the Race
Longtime county commissioner returns to run
By Shaun O’Dell

Former Lane County commissioner Jerry Rust, who has been out of the politics game since 1996, will be running in the upcoming election for West Lane County commissioner. If he wins, he will be representing the seat to be vacated by Bill Fleenor. He previously served 20 years representing South Eugene on the commission.

Jerry Rust in China

“I was sitting here tending my orchard on the banks of the Siuslaw when I heard Bill Fleenor wasn’t going to be running again and I didn’t pay much attention because I figured I was out to pasture,” he said in an interview before his formal announcement this week. “But I got some phone calls from people in Florence who supported Bill, and I agreed to come in and meet with him,” Rust said. He then went on a month-long listening tour around Lane County to get an idea of what residents wanted from their commissioners. 

Rust said, “I learned enough; I heard enough and I got enough encouragement to make me decide to run. I’d say half or more of the platform I’m going to unveil is gleaned right from the voices of the people.”

One thing Rust learned on that listening tour was residents’ awareness that the county’s finances aren’t stable. “The expenditures are growing faster than the revenues, and we’re headed for some serious financial problems,” he said.

A point Rust hopes to address is jobs in Lane County. He has 20 years experience in dealing with local job loss and in balancing county budgets, including, he says, during the hard times of the 1980s when the bottom fell out of federal timber revenues shared with the county.

His platform also includes taking a look at the expenditure side of the budget before considering revenues. “One thing I would never do,” he says, “is enact a tax without the consent of the people.”

Rust is looking to strengthen traditional industries in Oregon, including agriculture, timber, fisheries and tourism, he said. There are two definitive goals for Rust’s campaign: energy security and food security. 

His estimates put the county’s food production for itself around 1 to 2 percent, which he says is risky. “We’re just one gas crisis away. The trucks don’t come for two or three days and we’re in trouble. I’d like to see a pretty high goal, say 25 percent, that could be produced locally,” he said. Rust also hopes to protect long-term growth crops like fruit orchards by addressing Eugene’s urban growth boundary. He says farmers are concerned about having good growing land enveloped by development; he would like to see those lands protected.

In addition to investigating solar power, he plans to collaborate with utility boards to better insulate homes in Lane County for energy conservation, and he would like to explore the possibility of creating biogas from small farm and dairy silage for fueling Lane Transit District’s bus fleet.

Some ideas Rust has for creating potential jobs in the county stem from his recent experiences teaching English in China for two years. He would like to create a “Center for English Excellence” that would use the Internet to connect trained English speakers internationally with non-English speakers looking to learn better pronunciation and communication skills in English. Rust says Lane County could take advantage of this market. 

Besides language, Rust is convinced there is a market for other Oregon goods, especially wine. He says the middle class in China could be a potential market for Oregon vineyards. More jobs could also come from expanding wineries for events and even winery restaurants.

Finally, Rust said he would take a look at creating a metropolitan public safety agency that focuses on police forces working together. Rust said it would be difficult, but it could mean a more efficient and cost-effective police force. It could also mean being able to afford more rural deputies to deal with apprehending and rehabilitating of methamphetamine users.

 In all, Rust said, “I understand where the moving parts of county government are and what needs oil,” he said. “I’ll put my district first, but with the knowledge that my vote will effect everyone else in the county and I will try to be as just and fair as I possibly can.”

Back in 1976, when Rust first ran for commissioner, he did so with renewable energy and environmentalism in mind. Now, he says, he just “needs to brush those things off and get them out there again. I think people are ready for it.”