International Hero Vies To Add Douglas County Commissioner To Resume

Sep 5, 2018
Originally published on September 5, 2018 8:15 pm

Oregon National Guard specialist Alek Skarlatos thwarted a terrorist attack. He competed on "Dancing With the Stars" and starred in a Clint Eastwood movie based on his own life.

Now the international hero hopes to become the next Douglas County commissioner.

The use of star power to seek political office is not a new phenomenon. Think Ronald Reagan, Al Franken and, more recently, "Sex and the City" star Cynthia Nixon, who is running for governor of New York.

And, of course, there's a former reality TV star in the White House.

Skarlatos is currently testing how big name recognition plays out in local politics. His desire to run, he said, stems from a desire to help the place he calls home. 

“I’ve traveled all over the country, and all over the world, and there is no place I would rather live than Douglas County,” he said.

Douglas County is hurting. The decline of the timber industry, and in federal timber receipts, has crippled county services. Current commissioners have closed libraries and slashed jobs, and they're now on the verge of losing 24-7 sheriff’s patrols.

With his star power, Skarlatos said he believes he can help convince federal lawmakers to pay more attention to the West’s timber problem. After all, his thinking goes, President Donald Trump took an interest in West Virginia’s coal problems and rolled back regulations that some people argue helped the industry. What if he did the same thing to spur more logging?

“The federal government owns half the county," Skarlatos said. "If we don’t have revenue from it, we can’t fund any county services that people are used to from back when we were logging."

It’s a crowded race, with eight candidates vying for the one open commissioner seat. But state Sen. Dallas Heard, a Roseburg Republican, believes Skarlatos’ credentials make him the right person for the job.

“Most Americans, in my opinion, are good people," Heard said. "They look at someone like a veteran like Mr. Skarlatos, who has the track record he does of stepping up to the plate when it’s most necessary rather than running, and they give him the respect someone is due like that by listening to his opinions."

Other civic leaders are skeptical the 25-year-old has the right set of skills to help oversee the county’s $140 million budget.

Douglas County does not have a full-time professional administrator, so commissioners manage the county’s departments. They are charged with ensuring the 1,400 miles of county roads are well maintained, and they're responsible for overseeing the county’s 306 bridges and guaranteeing the planning division correctly enforces building codes.

In other words, former Douglas County Commissioner Doug Robertson said, it’s a complicated job.

“Business experience, administrative experience is certainly, from my perspective, a requirement,” said Robertson, who was first elected in 1980 and ended up the county's longest-serving commissioner. 

For the past three years, Skarlatos has run his own S corporation and managed contract employees. He points to skills he gained in the military - overseeing other soldiers and being responsible for expensive government equipment - as being transferable to the county role. 

Not that long ago, Skarlatos wasn’t sure what he was going to do with his life. He was a 22-year-old Umpqua Community College student and a clerk at Costco. Because he had been a bit of a troublemaker in school, he was the son his parents worried about the most. 

He joined the National Guard to fulfill his dream of being a sniper. That eventually led him to a Paris-bound train — and the heroic act that changed the course of his life.

Since then, Skarlatos has been a guest on Ellen Degeneres' talk show and received career and personal advice from another celebrity-turned-politician, former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. He starred in the Clint Eastwood movie about the foiled train attack, “The 15:17 to Paris,” and watched the film with President Trump at the White House.

Whether the next step is Douglas County commission is up to voters. Ballots go out Oct. 17.

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