Plants to Politics

by Lizzie Norgard

When it comes to public participation in politics, Walla Walla County Commissioner candidate Bob Biles believes there is a dire need for change.

Bob Biles is the Democratic candidate for Walla Walla County Commissioner #3. This is a position that includes administrative, legislative and quasi-judicial responsibilities. Besides balancing budgets for all the offices of the county government, the county commissioner also makes judgments on public land-use issues and can introduce changes to the county code.

According to Biles, the county commissioner is also the face of the county government for the public. This responsibility entails constant dialogue with the people to involve them in the political process.

Biles finds the low turnout at the polls in local government elections “frustrating and disheartening.” He said, “I think that the primary issue—and it’s not just with the county commission, it’s with government in general—is that people have lost faith in their elected officials. They don’t trust them, and as a result of that, people don’t participate in government.”

Biles affirmed that there are not many candidates to choose from in county elections. “The coroner, the prosecuting attorney, the sheriff, the assessor, the auditor, the treasurer are all elected officials, but there was nobody challenging any of them,” he said.

“I was the only challenger to challenge the county commissioner. I did that because I’m a patriot. I’m not kidding—if you don’t participate, if you don’t give people a choice, then if things are going badly and there’s no one to evaluate those elected officials, they just get a free pass.” Biles said that one of the reasons he is running for county commissioner is to reinvigorate public interest in voting.

In terms of how he would address public issues, Biles said, “What [I] would really hope for is that people will be given the opportunity to express where they want to see their government go, and then [I] become the vehicle to put those desires into public policy.” The issues Biles envisions becoming most important for Walla Walla County fall under three main headings: energy transformation, environmental restoration and economic development.

Biles sees a need to reduce the cost of shipping food into Walla Walla County, both by transitioning to cheaper, more efficient biofuels and reducing the distance food is shipped. Biles advocates a transition to biofuels on the national level and wants to develop the resources  Walla Walla could contribute. He cited farmland, wind turbines and graduates from local colleges as vital assets for energy transformation.

Biles also wants to integrate educated people from Whitman, Walla Walla College and Walla Walla Community College into a more skilled workforce. “You have engineers and businesspeople at Walla Walla College, science people here at Whitman and technical skills people at the Community College, and what we’re missing is the job source to bring those people together,” he said.

Working with the presidents of the colleges and other economic development officials, Biles would promote businesses involved in energy transformation and environmental restoration that would also create family wage incomes. He said that the service sector and tourist industry jobs that now dominate Walla Walla often do not pay enough for families to support themselves.

Biles has worked for Whitman as a Landscape Maintenance Specialist for the last 11 years and has been a member of the Whitman Budget Advisory Committee. He is also on the Walla Walla City Planning Commission, and he operates a stand at the Farmer’s Market selling flowers and vegetables from his farm. Read more about Bob Biles and his campaign at  http://www.bobbiles.com.

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