When I was first talked to Yamhill County Commissioner Casey Kulla, I had a hunch it wouldn’t be the last.
Kulla first came onto our radar back in December 2020 as a strong voice of support for the Yamhelas Westsider Trail, a 17-mile rail-trail project along Highway 47 south of Forest Grove. Just two years after this affable, 42-year-old vegetable farmer was elected to the Board of Commissioners, he found himself in the minority on the project that was near-and-dear to his heart. Kulla advocated strongly for the Yamhelas project, only to see it stopped back in February when he found himself on the losing end of a 2-1 vote. (The project isn’t dead though! Listen to the episode to hear how the Chehalem Parks and Recreation District might pick up the pieces and put it back together.)
Being a rural Oregon Democrat and family farmer who supports public land access and rail-trail projects is just one of many facets of Kulla’s background that give him a legitimate claim to being that rare Oregon politician who just might be able to bridge the much talked about urban/rural divide. From growing up in a conservative evangelical household, to working at a bike shop as a teenager on the Oregon Coast and living carfree during his college days in Bellingham, Washington — Kulla owns a diverse set of perspectives that have helped inform his collaborative and respectful approach to politics.
But how will Kulla’s style stand up against increasingly divisive and extremist opponents? In one exchange, I asked Kulla how he can justify his approach in the face of the urgent crisis of climate change, which he says is his top priority issue:
“Addressing [climate change] in a way that sticks will be the ultimate test, I believe, of our ability to have a democratic society. Because you’re right that we have to act with urgency; but we also have to make sure everybody is on board and has some stake in it… Because otherwise it will be the ultimate in eco-fascism. I see a lot of proto-authoritarianism on the right, where, people in positions of authority tell other people what to do… And, if we’re saying we have to address climate change and there can’t be any conversation about it, that is its own form of authoritarianism.”
Also in this interview, we talked about how surfing defines Kulla’s political style, why it’s so important to maintain free public access to rural land, how the Yamhelas Westsider Trail is like critical race theory, his ideas for reforming the Oregon Department of Transportation, and much more.
Listen in the player above or wherever you get your podcasts. For past episodes and links to subscribe, check out BikePortland.org/podcast. You can also read the full transcript of this episode here or view the embedded PDF below.
Links from the show:
– Kulla for Oregon Campaign Website
– Casey Kulla on Twitter @CaseyKulla
– Friends of the Yamhelas Westsider Trail
– Amid opposition and delays, Yamhelas Westsider Trail planning effort chugs along (BikePortland, 12/20/20)
– How a trail in rural Oregon became a target of far-right extremism (High Country News, 07/01/21)
– Two Yamhill County Farmers Are Running for Governor. Casey Kulla Wonders Where the Other One Has Been (Willamette Week, 11/03/21)
Transcript (text version here):