No faux pas occurred during a recent Old Goats luncheon, which was more civil in tone and less heated than the last time candidates for Island County commissioner addressed voters at the private club.
The two winners in the Island County primary election spoke to a sizable group, with some overlap in opinions and polite disagreement on others.
Candidates Janet St. Clair and Tim Hazelo were invited to speak at the August meeting of the Old Goats — Fully Informed Voters, a conservative and libertarian discussion group led by South Whidbey residents Rufus and Reece Rose. Rufus serves as the moderator of the group’s lunch events, methodically passing around a microphone for attendees to ask their questions one at a time.
Democrat St. Clair, the incumbent, is running for her sophomore term on the Island County Board of Commissioners. St. Clair has previous experience running large nonprofit organizations and was a social worker for 30 years. She was elected in 2018, defeating then-incumbent Rick Hannold, who ran again for the position this year but lost the primary election.
Her Republican challenger Hazelo is a relative newcomer to politics. This year marks the second time his name will appear on the ballot for the general election; he ran against Rep. Rick Larsen in 2020 and lost. He is a former Navy flight engineer who currently serves as the chairman of the Island County Republican Party.
The luncheon began cordially, with candidates answering questions about the partisan status of the position and fiscal responsibility.
Rather than picking a side, St. Clair said she encourages people to vote for their values. Ever chock-full of colorful anecdotes, Hazelo shared a story about a “little old lady” he met while knocking on doors who agreed with everything he said but when she found out he was a Republican, she refused to vote for him. Both candidates pointed to the WhidbeyHealth public hospital district’s previous financial situation as a poor example of fiscal responsibility.
Once lunch had been served, the COVID-19 pandemic became a hot topic.
Hazelo advocated for listening to doctors and allowing a “diversity of treatments.” He announced that he himself resisted getting the vaccine.
St. Clair, on the other hand, spoke about “following the science” and said research has shown that wearing a mask prevents transmission of the virus.
Abruptly, someone from the back of the room asked about individual choice.
“Please raise your hand, we’ll come to you. This is not a football game,” Rufus admonished the spontaneous speaker.
The candidates also discussed another hot topic – the county’s recent decision to provide matching funds for the Low Income Housing Institute, known as LIHI, to purchase the only motel in Freeland and turn it into bridge and supportive housing.
“I had a problem with that particular project because of the process,” St. Clair said, adding that in her opinion, not being able to do a feasibility study of the project before the allocation of money is a “backwards process.”
Hazelo agreed that St. Clair “hit the nail on the head” about the process, but disagreed with the county’s decision.
“I think this was a rushed project. I think we screamed into it at lightning speed,” he said. “We didn’t have answers, we didn’t even know what questions to ask.”
One attendee asked about the pending litigation of the project, but St. Clair declined to comment.
Another person in the room asked about “derelict RVs” and the problem of public safety. Hazelo recommended passing some local ordinances and shared a story about a garbage-ridden park-and-ride near his home. He said the law should be that if an RV parked on the side of the road is “a piece of garbage that’s not registered” and “doesn’t run” it should be towed away.
“I hope you’re planning on getting your law degree because the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals would tell you, ‘You can’t tow that RV away,’” St. Clair countered.
She and Hazelo also disagreed on the necessity of hiring a county administrator. St. Clair pointed to the county’s significant growth and numerous other counties that already have the position. Hazelo said he couldn’t see why the position was needed, but acknowledged that he is not currently in that office and does not have the knowledge that the current county commissioners have.