Burns braces for recall election
PORTLAND — Voters in a rural Oregon town are receiving ballots in the mail for a recall election targeting a judge who opposed the armed takeover of a federal wildlife refuge earlier this year.
Harney County Judge Steve Grasty decided to fight the recall even though he is retiring this year.
The recall has stirred passions in Burns, which held the national spotlight for weeks during the standoff at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
Ammon Bundy and others occupied the refuge this winter to protest federal land policy and the imprisonment of Dwight and Steven Hammond, two ranchers sent to prison for starting fires.
The 41-day standoff ended Feb. 11 and included the fatal shooting by police of rancher and occupation spokesman Robert "LaVoy" Finicum.
The recall election is June 28. Though his title is judge, Grasty's position is essentially chairman of the county commission.
He was outspoken in his opposition of the occupation and the ranchers holed up in the refuge. Their supporters blamed Grasty for not doing more to protect the Hammonds.
Some Burns residents are rallying around Grasty as the recall election draws near. About 100 people attended a rally for him last week and an ad running in the local newspaper this week will list the names of up to 150 supporters.
"I think he's done a really good job for us," said Jeanette Vinson, a nail technician who supports Grasty. "It's ridiculous. Why go through all this? Why put the county through this?"
Kim Rollins, who initiated the recall and gathered enough signatures to get it on the ballot, declined to comment.
Grasty said he'll be relieved when the election is behind him, no matter the outcome.
"I've always had good solid communication and relationships with folks and it's very humbling to go to the grocery store, to go to the hardware store and every time someone expresses support," said Grasty, who's served in his position since 1999.
The occupiers wanted the federal government to relinquish public lands and free the Hammonds. Neither demand was met.
Two of 26 defendants indicted on a conspiracy charge after the standoff have accepted plea deals.
A September trial has been scheduled for the remaining 24 defendants, including Ammon and Ryan Bundy.