Karen Valenzuela, who was appointed to a vacant seat on the Thurston County Commission in February, is running for the remaining year in the term. Valenzuela, 60, should be elected on Nov. 3 so she can demonstrate her leadership skills to county voters in advance of next year's commission election.
Democrat Valenzuela has drawn Republican Pat Beehler as an opponent. He’s a capable candidate, but does not make a compelling case for removing Valenzuela from office.
Beehler, 64, is a land surveyor and has a career that included nearly 10 years with the Department of Natural Resources, a stint working for the city of Tumwater, work in a private architectural firm and 13 years as a business owner. He brings a solid mix of public and private experience to his run for public office.
Beehler also brings a long list of community activities that includes the Jaycees, Lions Club and Rotary. Earlier this decade Beehler served as chair of the Thurston County Chamber of Commerce.
He criticizes Valenzuela for a couple of her votes over the last nine months. He says Valenzuela and her colleagues on the three-member commission overstepped their authority when setting the county’s 2009 budget. Beehler said commissioners went too far when they attempted to dictate to Sheriff Dan Kimball that he cut five managers instead of taking deputies off the road. Beehler also is critical of the commissioners’ use of emergency land-use restrictions to stop development in south county. Beehler says building moratoriums amount to spot zoning.
Instead, Beehler advocates the use of thoughtful land use planning and zoning that set density standards and map out how property will be used. If land-use changes need to be made, Beehler said, those proposed changes should be made as part of the county’s comprehensive plan update.
We question Beehler’s perception that there has not been urban sprawl in the rural portions of Thurston County. Most developers will tell you that it’s easier, faster and cheaper to develop in the county than in the cities, so that’s where they have concentrated their efforts.
We were also a bit surprised that Beehler is quick to support the imposition of impact fees in the county. That’s not a typical Republican position.
While Beehler is a qualified and well-reasoned candidate, he simply offers no compelling reason why Valenzuela should be removed from office. It would be like forcing the football coach out after the first five games of the season. Valenzuela deserves the opportunity to finish the term, demonstrate her abilities and convince voters that she merits re-election.
The Olympian’s editorial board believes that Valenzuela has a superior grasp of the state’s Growth Management Act and understands the need to preserve agricultural and forest land in rural portions of the county. As a former Tumwater City Council member she knows the importance of funneling growth into the urban areas surrounding the counties’ three major cities.
Valenzuela has tackled some tough issues in her first few months in office. She walked in the door facing a huge budget crisis and managed her way through that mess in a responsible fashion. She also has worked to put the finishing touches on the county’s critical areas ordinance, to resolve agricultural land issues, to set stormwater standards and to protect prairie lands. She and her colleagues have clearly concentrated their efforts in strengthening the county’s environmental protections.
If we have a concern it is that not enough emphasis has been placed on creating the economic base necessary to generate the tax revenue to sustain county programs. She was a leader on the Tumwater City Council when council members gained an anti-business reputation. Valenzuela hopes to counter that image with efforts to renew forest, fish and farming industries in the county — with regulations that promote sustainability. She also sees a potential to create more green jobs in the county.
Valenzuela has demonstrated her leadership abilities through a tough period. Her idea to foster stronger relationships with other elected officials in the courthouse is long overdue. Voters should give her that opportunity by electing Valenzuela on Nov. 3.