Unlike at the state and federal levels, Benton County’s government doesn’t have traditional legislative, executive, and judicial branches. Instead we elect three county commissioners, as well as our sheriff and district attorney. Elected to four-year terms, no county commissioner has any more power than another. The Position 2 Commissioner’s office was Benton County’s only contested election of the May 17 primary. For the last 16 years this position has been held by Jay Dixon, but this time was different. Dixon lost the Democratic Party Primary to Xan Augerot—9,334 to 6,419 votes. Dixon and I sat down in his office a few days after the election to discuss his four terms as a county commissioner.
Dixon’s memorable accomplishments include the dedication and expansion of Fort Hoskins Historic Park, the relocation of the 1883 North Palestine Baptist Church (now listed on the National Register of Historic Places) to Adair Village, welcoming First Lady Michelle Obama on her visit to Corvallis, and overseeing construction of the Extreme Makeover Home Edition home for the Byers family in north Benton County. Dixon is also glad to have seen several federally qualified health clinics open in Linn and Benton counties during his terms in office. The clinics provide care for low-income people, as well as those without insurance.
Aside from last month’s election, Dixon identified Benton County’s decision to start issuing same-sex marriage licenses as his most challenging moment. Dixon said, “That was difficult because the Governor and Attorney General had asked us not to do that. They were trying to sort through and figure out what they should be doing on a statewide basis. My two colleagues Annabelle [Jaramillo] and Linda Modrell at the time, voted out of the blue; we had not discussed it previous to the meeting, to issue licenses to gay couples. I voted no. Not because I was philosophically opposed to doing it, but because we’d been asked by the Governor and the Attorney General not to do it. I think, we’ll never know, but I think, we didn’t help the effort any by doing what we did, because we threw it into the courts immediately. What we ultimately did, based on advice of counsel, was we decided not to issue any marriage licenses to anybody. That was rapidly overturned by the circuit court. The people who were opposed to gay marriage were able to get a constitutional amendment passed. If we had not done that, I don’t think the constitutional amendment would have been put in place. But it was, and it was ultimately overturned. But those were difficult times.”
Looking forward, Dixon listed jobs and affordable housing as the two most important issues facing Corvallis in the near future. “I’d like to see more attention paid to the jobs that don’t necessarily require a college degree,” said Dixon. “There needs to be a concerted effort to head in that direction, and I don’t see it in Oregon.” In his early career, Dixon served in law enforcement with the Seattle Police Department, and worked as a senior official in several financial institutions and security companies in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Dixon and his family took a chance, moved to Corvallis, and started a hardware store in 1992. He’s proud to say that people still ask him about it when they wonder what he’s been up to all these years. Prior to being elected Benton County Commissioner in November 2000, Dixon held elected office as a member of the Corvallis 509J School Board. Dixon said he would like to thank the folks of Benton County “for having faith in me for 16 years.”
By Mathew Hunt