County Commissioner Karen Valenzuela and Republican challenger Pat Beehler are in agreement about the key issues facing Thurston County; they just disagree on the solutions.
Valenzuela, a former Tumwater City Council member, has been on the commission since being appointed by the governor in early 2009. She says she is most proud of reviving “long-overdue” policies including adopting stormwater-drainage standards and beginning the ground work on updating the shoreline master program and critical-areas ordinance.
Beehler, a former land surveyor and small-business owner who has served as the chairman of the Thurston County Chamber of Commerce, says a commission made up entirely of Democrats doesn’t adequately serve the county’s needs.
“Currently, we don’t have diversity at the courthouse,” he said.
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The showdown is a rematch of last year’s general election, in which Valenzuela took more than 55 percent of the vote. This year’s primary election saw Beehler lose by about 7.5 percentage points, a smaller gap than in last year’s race.
Both see the numbers as positive.
Valenzuela says it’s the highest percentage she has received from voters in District 3 (the general election is open to the entire county).
Beehler calls his 46 percentage pull impressive, saying the district tends to lean liberal. He said that to make up the difference, he has been targeting independent voters and disenfranchised Democrats.
He says Valenzuela has been too “urban-centric” and claims she does not understand the concerns of rural county residents.
The rural part of the county is a big topic of discussion as the county goes through updating its critical-areas ordinance. The ordinance, which is being discussed in public forums, would restrict development in critical areas such as streams, wetlands and conservation areas.
Valenzuela says she will fight for the strongest environmental protection and that Beehler would not go as far as she would with regard to the ordinance.
“I think he disagrees with some of the policies we’ve put in place to protect some of the critical areas,” she said.
Beehler, who calls himself an environmentalist, says there must be a balance between protecting the environment and allowing people to use their property in a fair and equitable way.
“We still need to have protections, but we have to be proactive helping people,” he said.
Beehler said that if he’s elected, he will focus on making the permitting process easier and look closer at zoning issues.
One issue both candidates see eye to eye on is dealing with the county’s new satellite jail. The Accountability and Restitution Center will sit empty for the foreseeable future because of a lack of funding. Both would like to see a path toward opening the jail.
Because the commission holds the county’s purse strings, Valenzuela and Beehler have their own ideas on how to move the county out of the recession.
Valenzuela says luring “green” jobs to the area and strengthening the economy will help.
Beehler says living within the budget and developing a fairer tax system is vital to the long-term sustainability of county budgets. He added that, if elected, he will work closely with the Thurston County Economic Development Council to encourage new-businesses growth and existing-business expansion.
Valenzuela has a sizable advantage when it comes to campaign contributions.
She has raised nearly $35,000 this election cycle, compared with about $17,000 for Beehler, according to the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission. Valenzuela’s largest campaign contribution is $7,000 from the Thurston County Democratic Central Committee. She also has received contributions from the local American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union and conservation groups.
Beehler’s biggest contributors come from the developer and real estate markets, including $800 from the Wiley Property Development Co. and $600 from the Washington Association of Realtors.
Nate Hulings: 360-754-5476 firstname.lastname@example.org