A whopping $275,000 has been raised so far by the four candidates seeking two soon-to-be vacant seats on the Board of County Commissioners in the Nov. 8 general election.
The three-member board is Thurston County’s legislative authority. Although they represent individual districts, each commissioner is elected countywide to a four-year term, with annual salary of $111,600.
Retired Thurston County Sheriff Gary Edwards, who is running for District No. 2, which includes the eastern portion of the county including Lacey, Yelm and Rainier, has amassed the strongest war chest so far, with $87,667 in donations.
It’s more than any Thurston County Commission candidate has raised during the past decade, with the exception of Kevin O’Sullivan who raised nearly $110,461 in 2006 for an unsuccessful effort to regain a seat he had lost to Bob Macleod four years earlier.
Both County Commission races have caught the attention of JZ Knight of Yelm.
The Democrat — who is best known for channeling Ramtha, a 35,000-year-old male warrior spirit — gave $4,000 to Hulse, and $2,000 to Cooper, through her business JZK Inc. and as a personal contribution.
In addition, last week Knight gave $54,000 to a new political committee called People For Thurston County, according to Public Disclosure Commission records. The group’s only other donor was its sponsor, the Thurston-Lewis-Mason Labor Council, which gave $4,000.
So far, the committee funded mailers for Edwards’ opponent Kelsey Hulse, and Olympia City Council member and Democrat Jim Cooper, who is running against former Tenino Police Chief John Hutchings in the County Commission District 1 race, according to the PDC. Cooper and Hulse are both Democrats. District 1 runs through the central portion of the county and includes Tenino, rural Rainier, Olympia and Johnson Point.
In 2012, the state Democratic Party gave away nearly $70,000 in campaign donations from Knight, after videos were released showing Knight, during a channeling session, make derogatory remarks about Catholics, gays, Jews and Mexicans. Knight supporters say the tapes were heavily edited and taken out of context.
Hulse said she didn’t have a problem with Knight’s support.
“My thinking is, I spent some time down there, went to the school fundraiser they have and the interactions that I’ve had with folks who prescribe to the belief system have been universally positive,” she said. “ … And surprisingly diverse, quite frankly.”
Both races have remained fairly issues-based, with law enforcement funding, pocket gophers and economic development as major talking points.
Edwards, 69, who lives on Lawrence Lake south of Yelm, is an independent, although he was elected as Thurston County’s Sheriff five times as a Republican. At the time, he said he tried to push to make it a nonpartisan office.
“I’ve always said what’s wrong with the middle of the road?” Edwards said. “Why do we have to be in the left-hand ditch or the right-hand ditch? … I don’t know anybody that doesn’t want clean water, clean air and wants the critters to do well, and the fish to do well.”
If elected, he plans to work on making the county “more business-friendly and more friendly to the citizens.” He said he wants the county to invest more in law enforcement, and to “change the whole atmosphere at the courthouse.”
Hulse, 37, a nonprofit fundraiser, lives in the unincorporated area of the county near Tolmie State Park. It’s her first run at a political office, although she’s worked on a few friends’ campaigns.
She has raised $79,506 in contributions, which is the second highest in the two races.
Hulse said she would work toward improving communication and collaboration at the county.
“One of the things I want to do is restore some faith in government — to restore some trust,” she said. “To make sure that the county is seen as being transparent and being responsive to the needs of those it’s serving.”
Meantime, economic development and the pocket gopher have popped up as a big issue for candidates in the District 1 race.
Cooper, 41, a Democrat, lives in Olympia’s Carylon neighborhood and is chief executive officer of United Ways of the Pacific Northwest.
If elected, his goals include improving customer service at county departments, increasing recreational opportunities in the county, reducing criminal justice costs with therapeutic courts and similar programs, and growing economic development by working with regional partners, he said.
“When we don’t pay attention to our local businesses, we start having trouble in local government because that’s the revenue that’s the resource that helps keep our community running and our infrastructure maintained,” Cooper said.
During his four-and-a-half year tenure on the Olympia City Council, he’s helped bring more small businesses in, and promote economic development, he said.
Hutchings, 62, lives in southeast Olympia, which is an unincorporated area of the county. He retired from the Olympia Police Department in 2012, and served as the city of Tenino’s Police Chief for about three years.
He’s running as an independent.
“Being apolitical has worked for me,” Hutchings said. “ I’m not beholden to any platform. I’m beholden to the people.”
Hutchings said he wants to bring balance between county government, business needs and nonprofits.
“One thing I would like to accomplish is getting Thurston County back on economic development, back on track financially,” he said. “We’re just barely keeping our head above water currently, so we need to restart the economic engine.”
Hutchings said he believes the key to economic development in the county involves the Mazama pocket gopher.
Four subspecies that live in Thurston County were listed as threatened in 2014 on the Endangered Species List.
“The perception is because of the pocket gopher, that it’s a nightmare to do business in Thurston County,” Hutchings said.
County officials are working on a draft Habitat Conservation Plan that’s designed to help clarify where development can occur and how much damage to habitat can be mitigated.
If elected, Hutchings said he wants to stop a plan that would allow U. S. Fish and Wildlife to administer the costly plan.
“I’m going to tell the government ‘No,’ ” he said. “No one has told the Fish and Wildlife ‘No’ in Thurston County. But there are legal ways to do it.”
Hutchings said he also wants to cut the number of gopher inspectors from three to one, the number of required site visits from three to one and extend the time frame for gopher reviews by a month or two.
Cooper said he believes the Habitat Conservation Plan, known as the HCP, prenegotiates a federal permit for the county, which makes “transparent and predictable what soils and part of the county will be affected.”
“If we don’t do an HCP, and prenegotiate that permit countywide, it will be much more expensive because each individual property will have to then negotiate with the federal government,” he said.
Cooper said the county has already started receiving grants for restoration work, so the cost of the plan won’t fall solely on residents.
“I think it’s really been overblown as something that will be hindering our economic development when the reality of this conversation is that our economy is growing and doing well because of our location and because of the beauty that is Thurston County, the prairies (and) our unique location between the mountains and the Sound,” Cooper said.
Like Hutchings, Edwards said he would get the county to challenge the federal government on the pocket gopher’s listing and future mitigation for it, most likely through court action.
“I think it was a sham,” he said about the listing. “It was a railroad job.”
Hulse said she believes county commissioners and county staff worked with the best information they had at the time, in terms of dealing with the listing. If elected, she said she’d be realistic about what the county could achieve.
She said she thinks the county can leverage technology to improve its level of service, particularly with information about permits and building projects.
“In my view, we have to be looking toward the future,” Hulse added. “What do we want to be? What are our values and priorities? ... I don’t want to see us take on the federal government. I think that’s a bad idea.”
Contact address: 120 State Ave. NE #101, Olympia
Campaign phone: 360-451-9053
Political party: Democratic
Family: Wife Thomasina and one daughter
Education: Associate in Arts (liberal arts) from Whatcom Community College and course work from Colorado State University
Campaign fundraising: Raised $64,322, and spent about $51,977, as of Oct. 20, 2016. Top donations include $14,350 from Thurston County Democrats, $1,000 from Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation, $1,000 from JZK Inc., $1,000 from Judith Knight, $1,000 from IAFF Local 468 Olympia Fire Fighters, $1,000 from IAFF Tumwater Local 2409, $1,000 from AFSCME Council 28, $1,000 from Washington Teamsters Legislative League.
Contact address: 1910 Fourth Ave. E PMB 170, Olympia
Campaign phone: 360-742-2529
Political party: Independent
Family: Wife Debbie and two adult children.
Education: Associate of Arts, Santa Ana College; Bachelor of Arts, The Evergreen State College; Master’s of Arts in organizational leadership, Chapman University; graduate of FBI Law Enforcement Executive Development Association academy.
Campaign fundraising: Raised $42,738.22, spent $29,217.84, as of Oct. 20, 2016. Top donations include $2,000 from masonry contractor Steve Borman of Yelm, $1,000 from J.R. Setina Manufacturing Co. Inc. of Olympia, $1,000 from Olympia Master Builders, $1,000 from the Affordable Housing Council of The Olympia Master Builders.
Contact address: P.O. Box 1023, Rainier, WA 98573
Campaign phone: 360-894-2812
Political party: Independent
Family: Wife Debbie and three grown children.
Education: Course work at Black Hawk Community College, University of Wisconsin, University of Virginia and a graduate of the FBI National Academy.
Campaign fundraising: Raised $87,667 and spent about $48,688 as of Oct. 20. Top donations include $2,000 from the Affordable Housing Council of Olympia Master Builders, $1,000 from Dapaul Inc. of Tumwater, $1,000 from Keystone Masonry of Yelm, $1,000 from Thurston County Realtors.
Contact address: P.O. Box 3623, Lacey, Wash., 98509.
Campaign phone: 360-525-3558
Political party: Democrat
Family: Partner Matt Hervin
Education: Graduate of Albion College in 2004, majoring in philosophy.
Campaign fundraising: Raised about $79,506 and spent about $45,477 as of Oct. 20. Top donations include $13,850 from Thurston County Democrats, $2,000 from JZK Inc., $2,000 from Judy Knight, $2,000 from Tumwater Firefighers Union Local 2409, $2,000 from Washington Federation of State Employees Local 443.