Some say the occupation is the elephant in the room at many candidate events. At the first of several Harney County candidate forums, the pre-written questions avoided any mention of the occupation.

Some say the occupation is the elephant in the room at many candidate events. At the first of several Harney County candidate forums, the pre-written questions avoided any mention of the occupation.

Amanda Peacher/OPB

Harney County citizens voted decisively in this week’s primary for candidates who opposed the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

Harney County had more candidates on the ballot than in any primary election in recent history. In discussions about federal lands, some candidates echoed the rhetoric of Ammon Bundy and other occupation leaders.

But voters were clear they preferred candidates who opposed the occupation. For the county judge seat, vacated by retiring Steve Grasty, current county commissioner Pete Runnels got 53 percent of the vote. That means he’ll take office without a November runoff.

For the county commissioner race, two candidates who also opposed the occupation will face off in November: political newcomer Mark Owens, who works in the hay and farming industries, and incumbent Dan Nichols, who decided to run at the last minute because he felt Harney County needed consistency in leadership after the occupation. 

Harney County had the highest voter participation in the state, with 72 percent of eligible voters submitting ballots.