Clallam County commissioner hopefuls debate on party politics

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — Incumbent Clallam County Commissioner Mike Chapman and his general election challenger, Maggie Roth, focused on party politics and union issues at a Port Angeles Business Association general election debate earlier this week.

The debate eight days before next Wednesday, when ballots will be mailed out for the Nov. 6 general election, was marked by friendly banter instead of sharp differences.

“Is this a contest or sort of a love fest?” PABA President Dick Pilling joked Tuesday morning as he introduced the candidates, who sat side by side in a booth at Joshua’s Restaurant & Lounge before walking to the front of the room to take 45 minutes of questions from the 17 attendees.

“I’m hoping the attendance this morning is not indicative of the campaign’s fervor,” Pilling said.

Running as independent

Chapman, 49, a three-term commissioner, is a former Republican running as an independent.

He repeatedly cited what he said was the bipartisan success of the present three-person Board of Commissioners, which also includes Republican Jim McEntire and Democrat Mike Doherty.

“I think that’s what people want right now: representation across the political spectrum,” Chapman said, adding that the board had produced a 2012 budget that was the only debt-free county spending plan in the state.

Roth, a 58-year-old Republican and the former operations manager for Northwest Duty Free Store in Port Angeles, said in her opening statement that she “knows what it is to make a payroll” and wants to make Chapman “accountable for what his job is.”

Given a chance to rebut Roth’s opening statement, Chapman said he wanted to “give a lot of public credit to Maggie” for her involvement in county government and veterans’ issues.

Later during the debate, she pointed to Chapman’s changed party preference.

In February 2008, the county Republican Party said Chapman violated its bylaws by supporting former Democratic County Commissioner Steve Tharinger — now a 24th District state representative — who defeated Republican Bob Forde in the November 2007 election.

Chapman was barred by the party from “holding yourself as a Republican with any standing,” and the party suspended its support for Chapman for two years.

Chapman became an independent and never asked to be reinstated to the party.

“The only thing I can say about Mike is that he needs to be consistent,” Roth said.

“I am a Republican,” she said. “If that offends people, that’s the way it is.

“The issues are more important than being a Republican,” Roth added.

“If it comes down to right and wrong, I choose the right way.”

Asked in a later interview Tuesday why he did not ask for reinstatement to the county Republican Party, Chapman said he “is just more comfortable representing folks without a party affiliation.”

The issues that led to his ouster “would have continued,” he said.

“This has become a much more comfortable fit.”

During the debate, Chapman said the commissioners are working together to find solutions for Carlsborg, which is the focus of water and sewer concerns, and the impending Deer Park underpass east of Port Angeles.

“We’re working for you, the community,” Chapman said.

Budget negotiations

Pilling asked the candidates about budget negotiations with county unions and how they would encourage union members to do more with less.

Chapman said union concessions such as agreements that workers would pay higher insurance premiums, forgo cost-of-living increases and take 16 furlough days — a 6.15 percent pay cut — this year and in 2013 helped the county bridge a $1.8 million budget gap and prevented a tax increase.

“We want a partnership to work with them to live within our means,” said Chapman, who helped negotiate the concessions, a role he said will fall to McEntire in 2013.

Not affected by the concessions were the annual 2.5 percent step increases, or seniority pay, that are received annually by less than 30 percent of the county workforce for the first nine years of employment, county Administrator Jim Jones said later Tuesday.

Roth predicted at the debate that the county may have to give up the concessions next year.

“There are no expectations,” Chapman responded.

“I don’t think you’re going to see a 10 percent pay increase next year through the negotiation process.”

Roth said she does not object to the furlough days and complimented county officials.

“The county has done very well managing its funds,” she said.

“It’s just that as a county commissioner, I’ll be more available at nighttime.”

Chapman said Tuesday’s get-together was the fifth debate the two candidates have engaged in since Oct. 1 and the 13th of 17 that Chapman and Roth will participate in before the general election.

Ballots mailed to voters Wednesday will be due at the Clallam County Courthouse by 8 p.m. Nov. 6 or must be postmarked by that date.

The Peninsula Daily News will publish its General Election Voter Guide on Friday, Oct. 19.

The guide will include questionnaires from all local and state legislative races and the 6th Congressional District contest between Democrat Derek Kilmer and Republican Bill Driscoll.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at paul.gottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: October 10. 2012 5:47PM
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