Yakima County Commission candidates LaDon Linde and Autumn Torres sparred over a recent settlement involving Yakima County elections, the county’s water utility and COVID-19 mandates during a Thursday forum hosted by the Yakima Republican Women’s Club.
Incumbent Linde, who was appointed in November 2020, is running against Torres for the District 3 position in the November general election.
A recent settlement Yakima County entered into with immigrant rights group OneAmerica that will change the county’s election system was a hot-button topic Thursday.
OneAmerica alleged the county’s election system disenfranchised Latinos in violation of the Voting Rights Act.
The settlement will establish new commission district boundaries with one dominated by Latinos, force a 2022 election of all three commission seats, and force another election of two of those seats in 2024.
Torres called the Seattle-based OneAmerica a far-left interest group and chastised the commission for entering into such a settlement. She said OneAmerica sued the city, forcing it to change the way it conducts elections, and now it’s doing the same to the county.
“They want to turn Yakima County blue and I don’t know if you viewed the results of the last Yakima County elections, but we’re definitely sliding that way and all of us, our way of life is at stake,” Torres said.
It was the American Civil Liberties Union that successfully sued the city over alleged violations to the Voting Rights Act. OneAmerica and nonprofit Campaign Legal Center sued in the county case.
Torres said avoiding litigation expenses in the matter is not a strong enough reason to settle.
“I would like to see the county take a stand instead of continuing to kowtow and bow down to these leftist organizations, to take a stand and to fight back for the people of Yakima County,” she said.
She said she fears the change will cost the county more down the road.
“But really five or 10 years down the road if we turn blue and our property tax rates are sky-high, our crime is sky-high, law and order is out of control, what did we save?” she questioned. “We haven’t saved it. We’ve lost Yakima County and that is concerning to me as a parent and a grandma and probably one of the biggest reasons I’m running.”
She promised voters she’d work hard to undo the settlement.
“We can’t do that anymore,” she said. “Our republic, we’re at a point in time we’ve never been before. We have to draw the line.”
Linde said commissioners are not happy with the settlement and blamed it on Democrats.
He pointed to the state’s Voting Rights Act of 2018, saying it gave the immigrant rights group an unfair advantage. He said the act makes it illegal to dilute a minority vote in a district race.
“Now to me, that doesn’t sound much like an inequality issue,” he said. “To me, that sounds like trying to stack the deck to get favorable results. Nevertheless, the problem is state law.
“I know it’s state law passed by a Democratic Legislature and signed by a Democratic governor to benefit Democrats.”
Another hot button was the county’s water utility, which was enacted in response to a state Supreme Court ruling making county governments responsible for proving adequate water supply on all new uses moving forward.
The Yakima River Basin has long been overallocated. The county installed a water utility requiring all new rural development to acquire a water right, meter and pay a usage fee. Most impacted are new rural domestic wells.
Linde told the crowd that the water utility was not the work of the present commission and that the county has no way out of the utility because of the lawsuit.
Correcting him, Torres pointed out that Commissioner Ron Anderson was part the utility when it was approved in late 2017.
“At this point it is law, it’s established case law,” Linde said. “I don’t know if we could take it out. If we did, we’d probably go to court and we’d probably lose.”
Commissioners are now looking at the utility to see if it can be made more flexible and user-friendly, he said.
Linde assured everyone that the county has no intentions of forcing rural domestic well owners who were operating before January 2018 to become part of the water utility.
Torres took a much bolder stance on the issue, saying nixing it would be among her top priorities.
She said the Farm Bureau and local home builders and Realtors associations have all complained, saying the water utility is thwarting growth and is cumbersome to navigate.
“If you talk to anyone who has had to build and drill their own wells, they’re very upset,” she said. “I believe we need to bring it back in front of the people, mitigate what was done and I would support repealing it. We need to fight for Yakima County and for property rights.”
Both candidates criticized Gov. Inslee over masking and vaccination mandates with Torres voicing a stronger stance against both.
“I’m very passionate about freedom and liberty and during this last year we’ve seen an attack on our freedoms and liberties like we’ve never seen,” she said.
Linde said while he’s not a fan of the vaccination mandate, he encourages everyone to get it.
“I am encouraging people to get the vaccine but I also say if you have any medical or health concerns about it, please call your doctor,” he said.