By Jessica R. Wheeler
Sandy Mayor Stan Pulliam stopped in Moro on Thursday evening for a small town hall event hosted by Rufus Mayor Dowen Jones. Pulliam announced this month that he’s throwing his hat in the ring for Oregon governor, and he is now touring the state.
Oregonians will go to the polls to decide on the next governor in November 2022, with the primary election coming up in May. Pulliam and his team are traveling through eastern Oregon this weekend, their next stop planned for Pendleton on Friday.
Pulliam graduated from University of Oregon and has served two terms as mayor of Sandy, a town of about 12,000 just east of Portland in the foothills of Mount Hood.
“I grew up in Sandy, Oregon, lived there my entire life,” Pulliam said. “And I grew up in a house with small business owners.”
He said that like Sherman County, Sandy is very much a “pass-through” community, with a major highway running right through town and iconic and historic stops along the way. When Sandy’s small restaurants and businesses were shut down, again and again, due to statewide Covid restrictions, he decided it was time to speak up.
“I just couldn’t believe it, when Covid hit, and those businesses were forced to close,” he said.
It was that momentum that propelled him into the governor’s race. A number of meetings with struggling business owners and community members, who felt their concerns were not being heard in Salem, led Pulliam to travel throughout the Portland metro area and beyond, meeting with larger and larger groups each time.
Pulliam criticized Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s response to the pandemic and what he called a one-size-fits-all solution. What makes sense in Portland might not make sense in Sandy, or rural regions like Sherman and Gilliam counties, he said.
Among the other major issues Oregon is facing: homelessness.
“If you drive through areas of Portland, like Marine Drive, you’ve got piles and piles of trash and garbage,” he said. “Maybe the most frustrating thing is after the homeless leave, the garbage remains.
“And there’s got to be something we can do about it. I’ll tell you, as the richest country in the history of the world, you’ve got to imagine that we can be able to do something about what’s going on with homelessness on the West Coast right now.”
He also touched on poor grades for Oregon schools, which ranked among the lowest in the nation — even before Covid hit.
“What’s happening is, the people of Portland are thrusting their values and their beliefs onto the rest of the state. And it’s time for school boards, the people who you elect, with your neighbors here in your area, to make decisions along with parents about the curriculum and things that are going on in our own school districts. It’s time for parents to have choice.”
Ironically, he said, “that’s what Gov. Brown had originally promised to do. We were supposed to have our county commissions and our local school districts making the decisions on opening and what that would look like, and then once the elected people decided to make the decisions they did, she pulled the power back from them.”
“The people voted them in. It needs to be the people that make these decisions,” he said.
Pulliam said that as governor, he would not defund the police, but in fact would increase funding across the board. He said tripling the size of the state police budget may sound extreme, but really it just brings them back to where they used to be.
In Sandy, during his first term as mayor, he found their local police department a million dollars in debt. He said they made some hard decisions, closed a local public pool, but the department is no longer in debt and has hired additional officers.
Safety and security for local businesses and residents will always be a primary focus, Pulliam said.
“Why is it the people who want to take away our second amendment rights to protect ourselves and our families are the same ones who want to defund the police?” he asked. “Why is it the people who are going to call us a racist for insisting on an ID to vote, are now the same ones who are going to insist on a vaccine passport just to go to a local grocery store or your local restaurant? The contradictions are huge.”
Pulliam said he and his wife visited the local casino on a recent trip to Coos Bay.
“When you go onto the casino floor there, they’re all wearing their masks — and they’re pulling them down to smoke,” he said, laughing a little. “Because, you gotta be careful, that Covid will kill you. Well, so will smoking.”
He says ultimately the statewide Covid response was the motivating factor behind his decision to run for governor. His parents worked for small businesses all his life, then started one of their own. He’s watched small businesses in his own town struggle in the face of repeated lockdowns over the past 18 months.
Pulliam said not only is he the mayor of the town, but those businesses are owned by people he knows, people he grew up with. “What’s going on right now is we’re really losing good old fashioned common sense in our government,” Pulliam said. “When I’m governor, I want to restore power back to communities — to the people.”