On a mission to make sure voters kill the May library levy, Don Rist is putting his own money where his mouth is.

On a mission to make sure voters kill the May library levy, Don Rist is putting his own money where his mouth is.

The 70-year-old Talent resident said he's had enough with high taxes and expensive library buildings. He believes voters spoke loud and clear last November when they shot down the library levy.

"What does it take for them to understand 'no?' " he said.

Arguably one of the most vigorous opponents of the levy, Rist has called in to radio talk shows, written a guest opinion and paid to insert a mailer into the Mail Tribune warning residents not to give in to the "sob stories" about children not having libraries.

Rist opposed the first levy in November, also running ads against it, and was surprised when library supporters came back with the same amount in the May levy instead of cutting back. "This is ludicrous," he said. "Library supporters should have come up with other options."

Rist said he's not against libraries. But he does believe 15 branches are too many for a county this size.

"Three to five libraries I don't have a problem with, and if we had the timber money and they wanted to keep 15, I wouldn't object to that," he said.

An Ashland Realtor who said he could afford the property tax hike from the levy, Rist said he has spent $2,200 of his own money opposing the libraries and expects to spend another $300 before the election is over.

He's received numerous letters supporting his cause and even a few checks. But Rist said he returned the money to avoid the hassle of creating a political action committee.

Rist opposed the $38.9 million bond measure passed in 2000 that paid for the rebuilding or remodeling of 14 branches, referring to them as "Taj Mahals."

"I blame that on the voters themselves," he said. "They sat on their duffs and didn't vote."

During that election, he said a surge of Ashland votes at the last minute gave the levy a boost. Meanwhile, he said, much of the rest of the county didn't bother to vote.

"The people made a mistake then, and there's no need to make another one," he said.

On paper Rist sounds formidable, but in person he's approachable and often offers a slightly softer stand.

Posing in front of the Medford library for a photo, he said, "I don't mind the buildings so much, it's what we're spending on them."

Rist shrugged off criticism that his Mail Tribune insert contained several typographical errors. "Sometimes when I get in a hurry, I don't check things out," he said.

Rist came to Southern Oregon in 1961, having grown up in rural Nebraska. He had worked in the state prison system there.

He has two daughters and a son who died a year ago at age 40 because of heart problems, a memory that still pains Rist deeply.

Rist said he's a reader with a preference for crime books, particularly those written by Ann Rule. He's about to begin reading conservative talk radio host Bill O'Reilly's latest book, "Culture Warrior," which a friend gave to him.

During his childhood, he remembers going to the local library in Falls City, which was in a building not much bigger than a small room. "If you wanted a library with a lot of books, you drove 20 miles," he said. Falls City eventually got a bigger library, but Rist said it was funded by donations, grants and a temporary 1 cent sales tax approved by local businesses.

Rist said that in Salinas, Calif., libraries were on the verge of closing, but donations from the public helped keep the doors open while citizens organized a levy that paid for libraries, police and fire in 2005.

He said Jackson County library officials should have cut back dramatically on services a year ago when they realized federal timber subsidies would end. The subsidies had been providing $23 million annually to county coffers for libraries, roads and public safety.

Rist said county officials should have made a thorough assessment of library services, cut down on expenses and offered voters a smaller levy in May.

Rist said he might even support a levy that was, say, 40 or 50 cents for every $1,000 of assessed valuation rather than 66 cents as the levy reads now.

"Make an effort to show the taxpayers that they're trying to do something besides shove the same bad medicine down their throats," he said.

Rist said he's heard of the Davis family, which is spearheading the effort to pass the library levy.

"They're nice people," he said. "They're trying to pass something they don't know the whole history on, but maybe I don't know the whole history on it, either."

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.