Commissioner challengers address Old Goats

Rick Hannold announced that what the Island County Board of Commissioners needs is a man.

Standing before a small crowd of conservative-minded people, Rick Hannold announced to the room that what the Island County Board of Commissioners needs is a man.

Hannold, along with Timothy Hazelo, has filed to run against incumbent Democrat Janet St. Clair in the race for the Island County Commissioner position representing District 3, which encompasses Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, the unincorporated area north of Oak Harbor and Camano Island. St. Clair is one three commissioners on the all-women board.

Hannold and Hazelo, both Republicans and North Whidbey residents, were invited to speak at the May meeting of the Old Goats – Fully Informed Voters luncheon. The Old Goats began as a conservative and libertarian discussion group more than three decades ago. It currently meets monthly on South Whidbey and hosts speakers with a wide range of political viewpoints.

For two hours, Hannold and Hazelo fielded questions about their candidacies. Hannold is a former county commissioner who served from 2015 to 2018. He lost the election for his sophomore term to St. Clair, who is a Camano Island resident. Hannold told people during the Old Goats luncheon that he fell victim to the “anybody but Trump” campaign in 2018 since he had an R by his name.

Hazelo is the chairman of the Island County Republican Party. A relative newcomer to politics, Hazelo ran for Congress in 2020 and found himself on the ballot in the general election after succeeding in the primaries. He faced Rep. Rick Larsen, who he referred to as a “juggernaut,” and lost. Larsen, a Democrat, has held the position representing the state’s Second Congressional District since 2001.

St. Clair was not invited to speak at the most recent Old Goats event. She said that when she asked about being present, she was told by leaders of the lunch group that the winners of the primary election will get a chance to address the group.

Her challengers spoke about the issues of homelessness, urban sprawl, land conservation and wages for county department heads, among other things.

Hannold criticized the current county commissioners’ recent discussions about pursuing affordable housing in the form of low-barrier shelters. This includes a proposed Low Income Housing Institute project in Freeland, which would provide affordable and bridge housing.

“Government has no business providing housing for people,” Hannold said. “That is not our job.”

Hazelo recommended a possible solution of using relocatable buildings as homes in a controlled environment. He estimated putting up 50 units could cost around $3.5 million.

“Some of us have lived in those and if it’s good enough for me in Afghanistan, it’s probably good enough for a homeless person here in the United States,” he said.

He also spoke about his own experience of providing a room to a homeless community member, with stipulations about keeping a job and remaining free of drugs and alcohol.

Hannold was also critical of the recent update to the county’s zoning code for accessory dwelling units, or ADUs. He claimed it is a way of skirting the Growth Management Act because ADUs can be up to 1,200 square feet in size.

Hazelo agreed, remarking that the Growth Management Act is a “disaster” designed by “urbanists.”

He and Hannold both bemoaned the amount of land on Whidbey that the county has decided to conserve in partnership with the Whidbey Camano Land Trust.

Hannold said when he was in office he did not vote for a levy increase in the Conservation Futures program one single time.

“We have more than enough property in conservation,” he said.

“We shouldn’t be buying these properties up,” Hazelo agreed.

Both men also opposed the proposed hiring of a county administrator. Hannold said the issue had come up before when he was in office and he spoke out against it then.

The two candidates, for the most part, represented the same viewpoints with little disagreement. Hazelo said he and Hannold see eye-to-eye on 99% of things.

“We’re both farmers. We’re both military,” Hazelo said. “We both come from humble beginnings.”

One commenter at the meeting questioned what differences the candidates did have.

Hazelo pointed to his campaigning for Congress, and how he “worked his butt off” covering five counties. He pointed to the 23,350 votes he garnered in Island County during the 2020 election.

“I’d give you my schedule but you guys would all faint,” he said.

Hannold admitted that in 2018, he didn’t work hard enough campaigning. Voters in South Whidbey voting precincts overwhelmingly supported St. Clair during the last election he ran in.

He did point to his proven track record of working with the other commissioners.

When asked what he could do better than the incumbent, Hazelo spoke about the importance of having an open-door policy and being available to the public. He also said he would work to audit every single department of Island County, both fiscally and operationally.

Hannold, who later referred to St. Clair as an “evil woman” in his closing statement to the room, had many things to say. He claimed that on North Whidbey, grass hasn’t been cut, drainage ditches haven’t been cleaned and snow hasn’t been cleared since he was in office.

St. Clair said she believed that to be a “slight overstatement” and that the level of service has stayed the same.

“I’m not sure our road crew would appreciate the hyperbole,” she said.

Hannold also said St. Clair ignored property owners who were experiencing flooding, which was featured on TV news.

In response, St. Clair said she visited the site twice and that the county planning department offered the residents a solution.

“We offered them a path, and it wasn’t something they wanted to pursue,” she said.

She added that there are jurisdictional intersections at work that the average citizen may not easily comprehend.

“My predecessor should know that,” she said.