For the second time in four years, Clackamas County is voting out its incumbent county chair and replacing him with a rival from the opposite end of the political spectrum. 

According to early returns Tuesday night, challenger Tootie Smith was leading incumbent Jim Bernard, 52% to 47%. Smith is a conservative Republican who served on the Clackamas County board of commissioners from 2012 to 2016. Before that, she served in the Oregon Legislature, after being first elected there in 2000. Smith grew up in the southern part of Clackamas County and still lives in Molalla. 

On her campaign website, Smith pledged to voters, “You deserve the good roads, no new taxes, and better healthcare you’ve been asking for.”

Bernard, a Democrat, rose to be Clackamas County chair after serving as a county commissioner and the mayor of Milwaukie.

Bernard won the 2016 race for county chair against Smith’s political ally, John Ludlow, after Smith and Ludlow had steered the Clackamas County commission in a more conservative direction. Joined by fellow Republican Paul Savas, the Clackamas board’s majority was often at odds with its more liberal neighbors at the city of Portland, Multnomah County and regional agencies, TriMet and Metro. Its Democratic commissioners, Bernard and Martha Schrader were left as a vocal minority. 

Smith is poised to take over a commission with a few familiar faces, including Savas, Schrader and Ken Humberston, who unseated Smith in the 2016 election. 

The commission’s fifth member, Sonya Fischer, was initially appointed to her seat in 2017 by Clackamas County Democrats, to fill the vacancy created when Bernard became chair. Fischer was reelected two years ago.