Jefferson candidates discuss young folks' apathy
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Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News
State Senate candidate Larry Carter, standing, addresses the audience at a candidate forum in Brinnon Monday with, from left, Geoff Masci, Phil Johnson, Tim Thomas, David Sullivan, Keith Harper and Peggy Ann Bierbaum.

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

BRINNON — Candidates for Jefferson County commissioner and Superior Court judge said at a forum this week that they favor efforts to get young people involved in politics so that forums of the future may be more age-diverse.

Monday's forum at the Brinnon Booster Club drew perfect attendance from hopefuls for all three contested county races as well as two legislative candidates.

Jefferson County Commissioner District 1 candidates Geoff Masci and Phil Johnson were joined by District 2 hopefuls David Sullivan and Tim Thomas, along with Superior Court candidates Keith Harper and Peggy Ann Bierbaum.

State Senate candidate Larry Carter and Rep. Steve Tharinger, D-Sequim, attended, though their respective opponents, Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, and Steve Gale, were not present.

Tharinger and Hargrove represent the 24th District, which covers Jefferson and Clallam counties and a portion of Grays Harbor County.

The candidates for county commissioner and Superior Court judge have been invited to appear at a forum today from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Chimacum Grange, state Highway 19 at West Valley Road.

Ballots for the Nov. 6 general election will be mailed to the military Sept. 21 and to all other registered voters Oct. 17.

At the forum, Thomas, 41, was the youngest candidate and the only one under age 50, while Johnson, at 68, was the oldest.

The crowd also skewed older.

After candidates agreed they would like to see younger people involved in politics.

The political climate will need to change before that happens, said Carter, 64.

“Politics is extremely negative, and some of the stuff that happens makes you want to hurl,” he said.

“Until we can bring jobs here and improve the education system in the district, you are going to continue to stare at candidates that look just like we look because young people are leaving here in droves.”

“Politics is negative and ugly,” agreed Tharinger, 63.

“If you are a kid and want to do something positive with your life why would you choose politics?” he asked.

“I think it is our responsibility to raise the level of the discourse and make it more positive.”

But Johnson believes younger people are getting involved, pointing to two Jefferson County residents — Eli Waite, 32, and Emilia Navazio, 23 — who attended the Democratic convention this year and his own daughter, who has a political job in Chicago.

Johnson's opponent, Masci, 64, said that interest in politics can be encouraged through education.

“We need to make an effort to explain the process to kids because civics is no longer taught in schools,” he said.

“They need to understand how government works, what their place is in the system and their responsibilities as citizens.”

“When I talk to young people,” said Sullivan, 60, “the first thing they say is there is not enough to do.

“They are looking for things to do that will keep them out of trouble.

“A lot of them have told me they want to clean the place up because they do have a lot of pride about where they live and they care about what things look like,” Sullivan said.

Thomas said he didn't really think about politics “until a few years ago.

“I didn't think that it affected me because there is a disconnect between youth and the system.

“There are a lot of committees that you can join, but I've never gotten an invitation because it's always been a closed group,” Thomas said.

“If you want to get young people to care about politics you meed to make them feel like they belong, otherwise they won't get involved.”

Judicial candidates Harper, 58, and Bierbaum, 55, both also felt that education is the key to getting young people involved.

“If I'm elected, I'd like to get the court more involved in Law Day and Career Day at the high school,” Harper said.

“If we can get the kids interested in the legal system maybe they will get involved in other aspects of government,” he said.

“Kids need more activities,” Bierbaum said. “They have too much time on their hands.

She believes that “the Superior Court judge can be an advocate for the services that the kids need so badly.

“If we focus on these, it will make Jefferson County a better place for kids and families,” Bierbaum said.

A candidate forum also is scheduled at 7 p.m. Sept. 20 at the Masonic Lodge, 1350 Jefferson St., in Port Townsend.

Jefferson County Reporter Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at

Last modified: September 11. 2012 5:52PM
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