County commissioner race heats up early

Two Republican candidates announced that they intend to run against Commissioner Janet St. Clair.

The 2022 election has already started in Island County.

Two Republican candidates announced that they intend to run against Commissioner Janet St. Clair, who is a Democrat. She represents District 3, which includes North Whidbey and Camano Island.

Former Commissioner Rick Hannold wants a rematch. He lost to St. Clair in the last election after serving one term. He said he planned on announcing his intentions in the new year but ended up doing it earlier because residents kept urging him to run.

Tim Hazelo, the chairman of the Island County Republican Party, filed for the position with the Public Disclosure Commission in May of this year. He ran against U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen in 2020 and lost.

St. Clair said she plans on making a formal announcement that she’s running again in January.

“I look forward to a respectful and engaging campaign where we can focus on the issues and priorities of the people we are called to serve,” she said.

Hannold, a retired Navy chief, has been working as a contractor on the base, but his company was outbid. He was considering retiring but feels he is too young and has more to give to his community.

Hannold, a Whidbey resident, said he feels that he did a better job of representing both North Whidbey and Camano Island. St. Clair lives on Camano.

“People aren’t happy,” he said. “People on North Whidbey want and deserve some representation and haven’t been getting it.”

Hannold said he was practical, thorough and deliberate as a county commissioner.

Hannold describesd himself as a moderate and his record in office seems to support that assessment.

He took part in decisions, for example, to purchase property in Oak Harbor for a behavioral health crisis center and affordable housing, ban fish net pens, purchase Barnum Point on Camano Island and update the critical areas ordinance.

In addition, Hannold opposed tax increases — including a proposed Law and Justice levy — and voted against providing Coupeville with an economic grant because he and fellow Commissioner Jill Johnson felt the town didn’t support the Navy enough.

Like Hannold, Hazelo retired from the Navy after more than 20 years. He currently works as a computer operator and technician for a company that works with the Navy on flight simulators.

In an email response to questions, Hazelo said he wants to make sure that Island County is able to make its own decisions and uphold its values without having the state or federal government impose themselves. He criticized the big-government approaches to problems like homelessness and addiction, saying the county needs “a result-oriented approach, not some monkey throwing his food at the wall to see what sticks.”

Hazelo said he hopes to help the community preserve what it has and regain what it lost.

“We are losing our rural charm and simple respect for one another,” he wrote. “We need to be the people’s government again, we need people to feel like they are listened to and respected, that their opinions, wants and needs are going to be heard and considered.”

Like Hannold, Hazelo is skeptical of climate change; Hazelo said during a candidate forum that it’s a hoax.

Yet the candidates’ and commissioners’ opinions on the proposed affordable housing sales tax show that partisan politics don’t always inform decisions on a county level.

Hannold, for example, said he opposes the proposed one-tenth of 1% sales tax for affordable housing. He said taxes add up, especially regressive taxes, and many in the community are already struggling, especially with inflation spiking.

St. Clair also expressed hesitancy about imposing the tax; she said during a meeting that she has concerns about a lack of transparency in the way it was introduced to the community and also in the fact that the board can pass the levy without it going on the ballot.

Hazelo, however, said he’s OK with the tax, especially since he feels government policy at some level contributed to the lack of affordable housing.

“If we do this though it needs to be watched and monitored at every level,” he said. “We can’t do what government always does letting a large percentage of this just disappear into the oblivion of government and then keep going back to the well for more.”

On the board of commissioners, Johnson, a Republican, has been the most vocal in supporting the tax as a way to confront the issue residents and politicians have long said it the biggest challenge facing the county. Commissioner Melanie Bacon, a Democrat, also has spoken in support of the tax.