League brings candidates, public together

Island County Commissioner Phil Bakke speaks during a candidate night Tuesday sponsored by the League of Women Voters. Looking on are Helen Price Johnson, Curt Gordon, and Reece Rose. - Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times
Island County Commissioner Phil Bakke speaks during a candidate night Tuesday sponsored by the League of Women Voters. Looking on are Helen Price Johnson, Curt Gordon, and Reece Rose.
— image credit: Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times

Sometimes, what gets lost amid the political jabberwocky of primary season is a strong sense of candidate comparison.

Tuesday night, candidates for Island County commissioner, state representative, U.S. House of Representatives, state senate and superior court were invited by the League of Women Voters to present their platforms.

And a crowd of more than 80 convened at the Oak Harbor Elk’s Club Lodge armed with some challenging questions.

Helen Price Johnson, a Democrat and South Whidbey School Board president, led the introductions for the district 1 county commissioner candidates. She described her stance on leadership by quoting an African proverb: “You can go fast by yourself but you can go far if you bring others along with you.”

Republican Reece Rose followed, sharing her background on business management. She said she is frightened by the economy and the current county budget does little for her confidence.

“Our budget has increased by 5 percent but our spending increased 7 percent,” Rose said. “As a business manager, if I would’ve given that projection to a client, I would’ve been fired.”

Appointed incumbent Phil Bakke later defended the budget, assuring the audience the budget is balanced; it’s required by state law. He blamed part of the expenses on a new accounting system.

“Financially, this is one of the best counties in the state,” Bakke said.

Curt Gordon is the group’s only no-party candidate. Gordon is the owner of Island Asphalt and is seated on several local boards, including the Regional Transportation Planning Organization’s advisery group.

“Running unaffiliated, I can represent people better and not be sidetracked by politics,” he said.

One of the first audience questions centered on code enforcement and whether or not it is high priority.

Gordon said he would not want to increase the budget for it, but added people must follow the law.

Citations need more clarity, quipped Rose.

“One man I spoke with was cited for breaking code, but there was no clear explanation why. He went to the Web site, but it wasn’t available,” she said.

As a former code enforcement officer for Island County, Bakke described the process as “slow.” He said citations are filled with legalities and must be specific, otherwise they will not stand up in court.

Another questioner brought up zoning changes, specifically the Navy’s aircraft accident potential zone which was extended by the county. The zoning was meant as a protective measure against plane crashes, but controversy arose when it’s wide boundaries devalued property.

Bakke said if there’s a higher risk of an accident in these areas, we need to prevent high densities of churches and daycares.

The most disturbing thing about this was the alleged lack of public process, Johnson said. Input is important, she added, referring to the county’s decision not to hold a public vote.

Rose cited civic duty and said people are the fourth branch of government. They must participate.

Next, Congressional candidates Glenn Johnson, Doug Schaffer, incumbent Democrat Rick Larsen (represented by Brooke Davis) and Rick Bart fielded questions about the Iraq War and the energy crisis.

Bart, a Republican and former Snohomish County sheriff, advocated exploring nuclear energy for energy independence. He, like Schaffer, believes in acting now.

“Right now, we are focusing on cars, but the chairs you are sitting in and the floors are 80 to 90 percent petroleum products, because it used to be cheap. I think we need to tax companies that use fossil fuel,” Schaffer, a Democrat, said.

Larsen, represented by Davis, supported bills to investigate price gouging and oppose offshore drilling.

The Iraq question was pretty well agreed upon by each candidate; troop withdrawal is paramount. Schaffer, Larsen and Bart agreed on strategic deployment while Johnson, a Democrat, argued we should’ve never been there in the first place.

“We should’ve withdrawn after we removed Saddam. We survived a civil war and so could they,” he said.

The major issue on the table for the state senator candidates was transportation. People were curious about the Deception Park bridge and a recent study that said it will be overburdened by traffic by 2020.

“The bridge won’t be wide enough for the future, but there is no money for a bypass, plus there would be environmental costs. It must start at the local level,” Mary Margaret Haugen, the Democratic incumbent, said.

Sarah Hart of American’s Third Party and Republican Linda Haddon discussed a possible North Whidbey ferry as an emergency backup. Perhaps replacing the ferry that used to be in Cornet Bay, Haddon said.

State representative candidates Ann McDonald, Barbara Bailey and Patricia Jerry each began by denouncing income taxes and were asked to expand on health care.

Bailey, the Republican incumbent, said we have a great system, we just need to lower cost and access. Terry, a Democrat from Camano Island, suggested reducing overhead on Medicaid. McDonald was absent, visiting her 99-year-old mother.

For superior court judge candidates, incumbent Vicki Churchill is facing a challenge from attorney Craig Platt for the nonpartisan position. It will be decided by the primary election.

Churchill offered the audience a run through of her qualities as a judge, her part in creating drug courts and the juvenile facility, and her steady judicial temperament. She mentioned 126 judges who endorsed her.

Platt took a counter approach, focusing more on his experience as a defense attorney, his history as a prosecutor in Saipan, and his refusal to accept contributions or endorsements.

“I don’t want to put anyone on the spot,” he said.

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