The tone took two definite directions in Monday’s campaign forum featuring sheriff and district attorney candidates.
While the three men running for sheriff refrained from criticism of each other, things turned acrimonious between District Attorney John Sewell and his challenger, Hood River attorney Brian Aaron.
Sewell waited until the end of his comments to state that Aaron “does not even live in the community,” but is instead a resident of Lyle, Wash., which Aaron denied.
Aaron said, “I live at 1822 Columbia Street. This whole thing is groundless.” Aaron said he initially registered to vote as a resident of Front Street but has since changed it to the Columbia Street address.
“This is a slight act of desperation,” Aaron said Tuesday. “I think it’s an indication that Mr. Sewell does not want to focus on the real issues: the choice presented to the public, and about the services that need to be delivered to the people of Hood River County.”
In the forum he called the DA’s office “stagnant” and repeated his plan, if elected, to provide a program of child support payment enforcement and to establish a Victim Offender Reconciliation Program.
As Monday’s forum concluded, Aaron and Sewell stood up and Aaron extended his hand. Sewell looked at Aaron, waved his hand and shook his head, then turned and walked away.
Aaron had said in the forum that he has heard an “overwhelming response” from the community in door-to-door contacts that “people want change; that the status quo is no longer acceptable.”
Aaron noted that Sewell had applied for the Circuit Court seat vacated last year by Donald Hull. Gov. John Kitzhaber appointed John Olson of The Dalles to the position, which is up for election on May 15.
“Mr. Sewell applied for the judicial vacancy, and it sent the message to me that it’s time for him to move on from his current position,” Aaron said.
Sewell did not comment on the matter.
“You do have a choice,” Sewell said, “You have the choice of someone who has never worked a day in the District Attorney’s office, and someone who has managed a public office for 20 years; and a choice between someone who’s never spent a day in one and someone who has written a budget who and lived by it for 20 years and someone who hasn’t. Someone who actually makes his home in this community, with his wife and his children, those are the choices you have to make. Looking at this there is really no choice,” Sewell said.
In accusing Aaron of falsely claiming Hood River County residency, Sewell stated, “He (Aaron) lives in Lyle Wash., where he built a house and he falsely filled out a voter registration listing his address as his law office, and is a violation of Oregon law and plain flat dishonest.”
Aaron did not address Sewell’s residency charge in his closing comments, but after the forum he said, “It’s a dead issue,” stating that the state Department of Justice investigated “and it’s been put to bed.”
Aaron brought up a recent investigation by the Oregon Department of Justice which states that questions of his residency are unfounded.
An April 16 letter from the Secretary of State Elections Division states “there is insufficient evidence” to pursue the assertion that Sewell gave false information, a charge brought to their attention by attorney Jack Morris.
Aaron acknowledged that the 1822 Columbia St. home belongs to his legal assistant, Bertha Logsden.
Sewell said, “He’s couch surfing occasionally down at her house.”
Sewell said Aaron registered to vote as a Democrat (though the DA race is non-partisan) with the address of 212 Front St., which houses Aaron’s law office and an apartment. Aaron owns the building and said he had been living in it before moving to 1822 Columbia in December. Aaron owns property in Lyle as well as on the Oregon Coast.
“I’m not sure how it is that where one owns property should be an issue in this race,” Aaron said.
“It is a clear violation of the law. It is a felony to provide false information, it says that on the card,” Sewell said, adding that under Oregon Revised Statutes, a voter can list only one residence.
“Not an office; not someone else’s residence,” Sewell said. “Besides, now he’s listing his secretary’s house as his residence, when clearly it is not.”
Asked, “How is it clear he’s not?” Sewell replied, “He lives in Lyle, Wash.”
Asked, “How do you know that? Have you followed him home?” Sewell replied, “There’s people who have followed him home.”
Sewell said that the Department of Justice letter states that they didn’t feel they have enough evidence to proceed with the felony charges without a reasonable doubt.” The Department of Justice conducted the investigation on behalf of the Secretary of State’s office.
Alana Cox, state compliance specialist, said, “We proceed when we think we have sufficient evidence to show (a violation). False residency cases are very difficult to prove. What it rests on is did that person believe in own mind, that they felt they were a resident, and in this case (Aaron) was able to show enough evidence to indicate he was not falsely registered.”
Cox added, “We rely on the counties to determine if someone is properly registered and generally they find if someone is not registered, the cure is to update the voter registration.
“In order to pursue a criminal penalty, we have to show someone is falsely registered, but also that they knew what they said was false at the time. It’s a very high threshold of proof.”