The View From A Swing County: Tillamook Voters Weigh In On Coming Elections
A Tillamook dairy farmer struggles with the economic fallout from the coronavirus, but he doesn't blame President Donald Trump. Others think the president will get voted out this November.
Derrick Josi is a fourth-generation dairy farmer in Tillamook.
This morning, he's separating out cows that have recently calved. He wants milk from the new mothers to go to their calves — not the market — because it’s rich in antibodies and will help keep them healthy.
It's things like this that interest Josi, not politics. But he stays informed. Josi said he's a Libertarian by nature, but officially he's a registered Republican because he wants to vote in party primaries.
In fact, he said, he's a bit of a swing voter.
“Local races always matter to me," Josi said. "But the policy ones that have really got me interested right now would be the cap-and-trade bill because it is going to really affect rural communities.”
He’s talking about the big plan to fight climate change that Oregon Democrats tried to pass twice in the last year. It would set limits on greenhouse gas emissions and charge businesses that pollute.
Josi doesn’t like the bill but acknowledges that global warming is real.
“I think that the science says that it’s happening," he said. "And I think that any time you can, you should be doing things that help the environment.”
Tillamook County is a swing district and, increasingly, a bellwether in Oregon politics. The county's large segment of farmers, foresters and fishermen tend to vote Republican. But the booming coastal tourist economy has fueled a rise in Democratic votes as well.
The county went for Barack Obama in 2012 and Donald Trump four years later.
Josi said he voted for Hillary Clinton, because she had more experience and because Trump was an unknown quantity. But this winter, he was leaning toward Trump.
“He got some trade deals done that I didn’t think he was going to," Josi said. "So, off his policies, he’s great. But ugghhh. It’s just hard to wrap my mind around the things that he says.”
OPB's first conversation with Josi was in February before the coronavirus exploded in the United States. Since then, milk prices have dropped 25% as demand has dropped.
Josi sells his milk to the Tillamook Creamery Association, where it's made into ice cream and cheese. A hefty percentage of the creamery’s market disappeared with the restaurant trade.
In some parts of the country, farmers like Josi have had to pour their milk down the drain because they don’t have a market.
“You can’t just turn cows off. They’re not like widgets in the factory. You can’t just stop production," Josi said. "They need to be milked every day, so we’re going through a bit of a struggle right now.”
Josi hasn’t had to dump any of his milk yet. He’s hoping the creamery association will be able to divert its cheese, ice cream and milk from restaurants to grocery stores. After all, they’re experiencing a shortage right now.
But finding new markets and changing supply chains takes time.
Josi faces other pandemic problems, including delays getting veterinary drugs from China and difficulty in finding parts for failing farm equipment. He's had to delay expansion plans.
Josi said he thinks the state is making a disastrous mistake in how it is handling stay-at-home orders. He said rural areas should be treated differently than urban centers.
He also said this economic crisis is very different from anything he’s experienced before.
“Normal downturns we have oversupply, we understand it. So supply and demand, milk prices drop until things level back off," he said. "This time, half of the demand was just taken from us. ... It’s a totally different type of situation we find ourselves in.”
But while we all wait to see what will happen, the election gets closer. Does Josi blame President Trump for any of this?
The short answer is no.
“This was such a Black Swan event. Nobody saw it coming," he said. "And I think in hindsight we all would have reacted a little quicker and … gotten more aggressive, but nobody saw this coming.”
Josi will vote for Trump in November, and he thinks many of his neighbors, at least the ones who work in natural resources, will do the same thing.
Annie Naranjo-Rivera is Cuban American, the child of a refugee and an immigrant. She also lives in Tillamook County, in the coastal town of Manzanita, where she works as an equity coordinator for the nonprofit Unite Oregon.
She agrees many Tillamook voters flipped for Donald Trump last time because they wanted to shake things up. But she thinks they're not happy with the result.
“It’s not necessarily true that this is Trump Country out here," she said. “... Working-class folks wanted to try something different, and they wanted a change, and it didn’t really end up being exactly what they had bargained for."
She predicts a moral outcry against Trump in this election. For proof, she points to a conservative church in her town where church leaders have been vocal about what she calls “the hatred and racist policies” coming out of the administration.
“Somewhere like this, where people care about community members, for them to see reports on the news of children being held in detention without medical care, that really creates a will for people to want to change things,” Naranjo-Rivera said.
David McCall runs the waste and recycling program for Tillamook County. He’s married with kids and also thinks Tillamook voters will move away from the president.
“It’s a real distaste and disappointment with Donald Trump as a person," he said. “No one wants to see immigrant children separated from their parents. No one wants to see minorities or women treated poorly. Nobody wants to see the presidency actually derive into a set of places where you can lie and cast insults with no issue. You know, people just don’t like that."
Some people don't like it. But forester Jon Wehage is still with the president: “He tells it how it is. And it’s like, 'Huh, somebody that will actually speak the truth.'"
Wehage oversees tree cutting across 75,000 acres of Stimson Lumber in Tillamook County. He describes Trump as a coarse person, but he thinks voters will want to keep him because he's not a career politician.
"Would I want to be his friend? No. I think he’s probably one of the rudest people," Wehage said. "Being a politician is not a job I would want, you have to have a thick skin and that’s what he has.”
Tillamook County has long been an enigma when it comes to presidential elections. It flips on a regular basis, and the vote is always close. Back in 2000, for example, then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush beat Vice President Al Gore by just 13 ballots.
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