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Local editorial

Kupillas' career a hard act to follow

The longest-serving commissioner leaves a long list of accomplishments

Regular readers of this editorial page may be surprised by what we have to say today: that Sue Kupillas, Jackson County's longest serving county commissioner, should be remembered as one of the most effective leaders in county history.

We haven't always agreed with Kupillas.

We didn't endorse her last re-election bid.

But the many years of pluses easily outweigh the minuses with Kupillas, who is ceding the seat she's held for a decade and a half to former sheriff C.W. Smith. Jackson County residents won't find many public servants with her depth of engagement, knowledge and commitment.

The commissioner, a former art teacher, rancher and Eagle Point school board member when she was elected in 1988, quickly grew into a leadership role. Serving with Jeff Golden, a liberal, and Hank Henry, a conservative, Kupillas became the swing vote on many issues.

Constituents who tried to pigeonhole the new commissioner by her Democratic Party affiliation often came away shaking their heads. She was closely tied to the timber industry, for example, but recognized its reality early on and put effort into turning it in new directions.

— Often, common sense appeared to be her most trusted guide. Kupillas was an untiring champion for rural areas, lobbying for better access to health care and high-speed Internet. She successfully pushed for creation of an urban renewal district in White City when many others had given up on the area. Despite losing a 1994 bid for a seat in the U.S. House, she became well educated and effective in arguing for county funding in Washington, D.C. She took a middle-of-the-road stand on air quality regulations when they became an issue last year, attracting criticism from all sides.

Over the years, she held the line on several conservative environmental stands despite urging from party members: She lobbied Congress to complete the stalled Elk Creek Dam and opposed removal of Savage Rapids Dam. She fought President Clinton's creation of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in 2000.

Along the way, she battled breast cancer, too ' and won.

Even when people didn't agree with Kupillas, it was a rare day when she was uninformed. She was long considered the board's expert on timber, water and land-use planning, all complex issues critical to the county. She knew her stuff, and she stood by her position regardless of the fallout.

In the end, that became the commissioner's downfall as well as her strength.

With more facts at hand on more county government subjects than most of us will ever accumulate, she grew defensive and impatient with regular people ' her constituents. She didn't want to hear people irritated by her stand on the monument. She didn't want to debate her salary when commissioners agreed to give themselves a hefty raise. She didn't want to entertain a 2001 League of Women Voters' proposal to change the structure of the board.

It was, finally, time to let someone else serve.

But what a run she had. A 1993 Mail Tribune editorial endorsing Kupillas' congressional bid lauded her as a hands-on politician who sees what needs to be done and then persuades others to make it happen.

She was that politician for longer than anyone here ever has been, and Jackson County is better because of it.