"No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions." --Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1804.

Marquis of the county

Josh Marquis

Josh Marquis

Clatsop County District Attorney Josh Marquis periodically has come to political notice recent years whenever a substantial major-office set comes open, or Democrats are hunting for a challenger (as, earlier this year, for the U.S. Senate): His name winds up, a little mysteriously, on the list of possibilities. Which tends to generate questions, such as, who is this small-county prosecutor who keeps getting these mentions?

Turns out that this election is giving us some unexpected answers to that question.

Marquis has been DA since 1994, when he was appointed; in the way of many smaller-county DAs who’ve wanted to keep the post, he’s been routinely re-elected (four times) since. He has some knack for visibility, making a name as a death-penalty advocate (and quoted on the subject by the U.S. Supreme Court).

There’s also, however, some contention surrounding him at home in Astoria. Base pay for prosecutors is paid by the state government in Oregon, but counties have the option to add to that base, and many of them do. When they don’t, the main reason is severe financial hardship (as in Coos County, where the DS has taken a pay cut). In Clatsop County, the commissioners this year have withheld the local add-on, mainly at the doing of Commission Chair Richard Lee. Lee and Marquis have a hard-core battle going on.

The underlying reasons may have to do with decisions about which and how many cases Marquis files, or to do with Marquis’ wife’s 2006 campaign against Lee (which almost unseated the commissioner), or a dog-licensure case Marquis filed against Lee, or maybe something else. Its latest manifestation is a local ballot issue (Measure 4-123) whose sole purpose, if it passes, would be restoring the county bonus to Marquis’ pay. (It has a heck of campaign, and a heck of a multi-media web site too.)

From Marquis’ web site, here’s some of what he has to say about it, giving the flavor of how feelings have developed there:

The commissioners don’t want a fair and impartial system of justice. They want a revenue stream.

I refuse.

Their response? Personal attacks on me and my family. Using your tax dollars to fight an enormously popular ballot initiative. Lying in the paper, at meetings and in glossy mailers.

You are probably sick and tired of this fighting. So am I. Since April I’ve invited them to come to the courthouse any day, or to meet with me in any forum they prefer. They refuse. They’ve even hired a Portland law firm, again using your tax dollars, to represent them so that I cannot even approach them at a public county commission meeting.

The only resolution these commissioners are interested in is one that forces me to resign my principles or to simply go away.

Unseating a veteran DA such as Marquis would be a rarity in a small county like Clatsop – it’s hard to tell from the re-elect numbers what the voters in the county really think. The returns on this ballot measure ought to provide a pretty good idea.

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