With a multitude of positions up for election this year, the Ocean Shores Block Watch group hosted a candidates forum at the Lions Club on Sunday where members of the public got to speak with those running and hear their takes on political issues.
Thirteen candidates showed up to the event, encompassing federal, state and county races. They included U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, state representatives, and those running for county positions, Grays Harbor PUD commissioner, and Superior Court Judge.
There was a fairly large public turnout to the event, and Girl Scouts from Ocean Shores spent time before the meeting interviewing candidates about why they’re running.
“I’m trying to earn a badge, and I thought it’d be useful to ask them things like, ‘What’s your first act going to be?’” said Ashlynn McKay, a 9-year-old Ocean Shores resident.
When the forum began, candidates for each race took turns answering questions from North Coast News editor Angelo Bruscas. Each race’s candidates were given unique questions, and had time to give rebuttals.
Kilmer, a Port Angeles native and a Democrat, is seeking re-election for a fourth term in Congress, representing the 6th District. He said he would continue to work to strengthen the economy and local job market if re-elected. In listing the work he has already done to help Grays Harbor County, Kilmer talked about how he secured funding to mitigate coastal erosion, his efforts to reduce flood insurance costs in Aberdeen and Hoquiam, and to get more people working in the timber industry as a result of the Olympic Forest Collaborative.
“This past year, we saw the largest increase in harvest levels that we’ve seen in decades, and I think it’s a consequence of the work we’ve done to stop the litigation, and put more people to work in the woods than in courts,” said Kilmer.
Douglas Dightman, Kilmer’s Republican opponent, is a doctor who lives in Shelton. He said the primary reasons he’s running are to reduce the national debt to help taxpayers, make increased tax cuts, and to create policies that stress individual rights and opportunities and discourage government restrictions.
“The first thing we need to do is unburden the small business owners in Grays Harbor,” said Dightman when asked what issues he would focus on to help Grays Harbor County if he was elected. “We need to make sure we don’t have the burden of taxes that we have hurting the community. Representative Kilmer doesn’t support extending those tax breaks, and I think that’s an issue we should all think about.”
24th Dist. Representative
Incumbent Mike Chapman, a Democrat, is a former law enforcement officer and U.S. Customs Inspector who lives in Port Angeles, and is running for re-election for a fourth term. As a representative, Chapman said he has sponsored eight successful new laws in Washington state, and that all of them received bi-partisan support. When asked about past rural health care, Chapman referred to his efforts to secure $18 million to increase the medicaid reimbursement rate for pediatricians in rural Washington.
“The state portion to reimburse pediatricians was so low, that the last pediatrician was getting ready to leave Grays Harbor County. I knew that was unacceptable for the county to lose the last baby doctor.”
Chapman’s Republican opponent Jodi Wilkie wasn’t at the forum.
Incumbent Steve Tharinger, also a Democrat, is a former Clallam County Commissioner. He said he would continue to work to secure funding for the North Shore Levee project, which would take thousands of houses in Aberdeen and Hoquiam out of the FEMA flood hazard area, and noted his work on the legislature’s health care committee to assist Grays Harbor Community Hospital.
Jim McEntire, a Republican challenger to Tharinger, lives north of Sequim, is also a former Clallam County Commissioner, and is a retired Coast Guard captain. He said the main reasons he’s running are to make sure the Legislature considers the unique needs of rural Washington, and to limit tax increases as a way of helping working families.
Arie Callaghan has served six years as the county’s PUD commissioner. When asked if broadband internet and fiberoptic cables could be extended to rural areas around Grays Harbor County, Callaghan said it’s something he is working on.
“There are projects in the works, there’s a trans-oceanic fiber project that may land off the coast a ways, and we’ve had some good dialogue with the tribal nations about extending out there as well” said Callaghan. “I live in town and have high-speed internet, but I definitely feel for the people out in the country, it’s important to have good internet.”
Allen Werth, an Oakville resident, is challenging Callaghan for the commissioner position. Werth said before the forum he decided to run after having a negative experience recently with the PUD’s customer service.
“The customer service was so bad that I got angry enough to go to the Courthouse to talk about it,” said Werth. “They told me, ‘There’s not much you can do unless you want to run against (Callaghan). If you can come up with the money in the next eight minutes, you can run.’ So I paid it and I ran.”
Chris Thomas, a Democrat, is running to be retained as the county’s auditor for a full four-year term after being appointed in September 2017 following the retirement of Vern Spatz.
Thomas said he’s proud of the election security the county and state has, and that he’s made changes in his year to operate better, like weekly meetings, and instituting new software for elections. If re-elected, Thomas said he would look to improve online access to the auditor services.
Joe MacLean, a Republican challenger, is an election administrator for the Secretary of State, and is currently the chairman of the Grays Harbor Republicans. He commented on how the Auditor’s office has had to close several times recently because of illness or bad weather, and said if he were elected, he would ensure the office stays open, even in situations such as that. He also said he favors keeping the office open at the noon.
“If you elect me, you’re electing a full-time employee,” said MacLean. “I will cover those desks, and make sure the office isn’t closed because someone is sick or someone is taking a break.”
Superior Court Judge
Ray Kahler, the current judge, was appointed last November after Judge F. Mark McCauley retired. Kahler was in private practice in Hoquiam, before becoming a judge for the Superior Court. One area Kahler said he would focus on improving is family law cases, and said Grays Harbor is behind other counties that more commonly use a mediation process. Expanding on the recently-added drug court, Kahler said it would be good to also have mental health courts and veterans court programs.
David Mistachkin is challenging Kahler for the Superior Court Judge position. A major goal of Mistachkin’s is to build public confidence in the county’s judicial system. He noted that people picketed outside the Courthouse following Kahler’s initial ruling in an attempted abduction case earlier this year.
“What I don’t want is people holding signs and picketing outside the Courthouse,” he said. That’s an event I hope never happens in Grays Harbor again.”
Kim Foster, a Democrat challenger, said she felt compelled to run for the county clerk position after working in the office and thinking it needed improvements.
“Once we get in there and I find an audit of what is essential, we’re going to find the inaccuracies of the current administration is kind of a cloud over the office,” said Foster. “Once that’s fixed, I think the clerks will be able to do their job and be supported.”
Janice Louthan, the current clerk, said some things she wants to improve include adding online questionnaires for jurors. Louthan has 28 years of experience in the clerk’s office and said her experience has prepared her to take on the position with confidence.