Both friendly, one experienced in clerk’s race

Two Oak Harbor women with large families and reputations for being very nice, friendly people are competing in the November election to become the next Island County clerk.

But that’s about where the similarities end.

Debra Van Pelt, a Democrat, has been a deputy clerk in the office for the last five years. She worked with the former county clerk to learn nearly all the aspects of the office and has planned to run for clerk for years. She has support from all corners of the law and justice community.

“I really believe I’m the best person for the job,” she said.

Carol Ann Fortune, a Republican, doesn’t have any related experience, except for part-time work as an administrative assistant in the department of military science at Brigham Young University. Unlike her opponent, she has a bachelor’s degree. She hasn’t wrangled to get donations or endorsements; the county Republican party didn’t endorse her. Her husband, Shane Fortune, is running for county treasurer and the couple declined to be interviewed by the News-Times editorial board.

“I promise to be hard-working, honest, and friendly. I have strong customer service skills. I like people and treat them with respect,” she wrote in her News-Times blog.

It’s been an unusual contest from the beginning. Last December, former Clerk Sharon Franzen resigned. Following state law, the county Democratic party forwarded three candidates, including Van Pelt and current Clerk Patricia Terry, to the county commissioners. The board interviewed the three candidates and appointed Terry to the position.

Undeterred, Van Pelt decided to run for the position against her boss. Fortune surprised everyone by entering the race and going on to win the most votes in the primary election. Fortune and Van Pelt moved forward to the general election, while Terry was eliminated.

The job of the clerk is surprisingly technical and complex. The clerk’s office keeps all files for Superior Court, including felonies, civil lawsuits, divorces, adoptions, child custody and juvenile criminal court. A clerk must be present for all court proceedings and compose an accurate record. The clerk works closely with the judges, attorneys and the public.

Van Pelt grew up in a farming community in Iowa. She moved with her husband, Matt, to Oak Harbor six years ago. They have five children. He’s a flight engineer with the Navy and was recently transfered to California. She’s staying on Whidbey with her son, who’s in Oak Harbor High School, and she hopes Matt will be back soon.

“We are retiring here. This is where our home is,” she said.

Van Pelt came into the clerk’s office with experience managing a small office and doing the books for a small family business. If she wins, she plans to make significant improvements in the office. She wants to get a credit card machine; currently, people have to bring in exact amounts of cash to pay fees. She also wants to make documents available over the internet.

Fortune has worked hard her entire life. She earned an English degree from Brigham Young University. She worked her way through college as an administrative assistant and an early-morning janitor. While Fortune is modest about herself, her husband said that kind of work ethic shows her strength of character.

While her husband worked in a theater in Seattle, Fortune worked at a gas station and a pharmacy. They have six children she cares for, ages 2 to 15 years old.

In her blog, Fortune emphasized her beliefs in Republican ideas.

“I believe in the virtues of limited government and personal freedom. I am committed to upholding the U.S. Constitution. I promise to protect your rights to the best of my ability,” she said.

Debra Van Pelt

• Party: Democrat

• Residence: 6-year Oak Harbor resident.

• Family: Husband, Matt, four adult children, a son in high school.

• Education: High school diploma, a variety of clerk seminars.

• Employment: Current deputy clerk for five years, manager of small office.

Carol Ann Fortune

• Party: Republican

• Residence: 9-year Oak Harbor resident.

• Family: Husband, Shane, and six children.

• Education: BA in English from Brigham Young.

• Employment: Current homemaker, administrative assistant, various other jobs.

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