Jefferson County Commissioner John Austin decides against third run for seat
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Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News
Jefferson County Commissioner John Austin announced Tuesday he will not seek re-election for a third term.

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson County Commissioner John Austin announced today that he will not run for a third four-year term.

He acknowledged the reasons for his decision sound like a cliche.

“The main reason for this is that I want to spend more time with my family, and I want to travel,” Austin said.

“I know a lot of politicians say this when they leave office, but since I've been elected, I have produced three grandchildren and understand that the opportunity to have a great grandparenting experience has a short shelf life.”

Austin, who will turn 73 on April 4, disclosed his plans to the Peninsula Daily News this morning and was set to make a public announcement of his plans at a county Democratic Party function this evening in Quilcene.

The candidate filing period will be May 12-16 for the August primary and November general elections.

One of Austin's last official acts before he announced he would not run again was to approve, along with fellow commissioners David Sullivan and Phil Johnson, an increase in county commissioners' salaries, to take effect in 2017.

Seats now held by Johnson and Sullivan will be open for the 2016 election.

Coinciding with Austin's announcement, Democrat Kathleen Kler, a member of the county Parks and Recreation and Port Townsend Film Festival boards, said she plans to run for the District 3 seat, which includes Port Ludlow, Quilcene, Brinnon and the western part of the county that extends to the Pacific Ocean.

Kler, 63, a Quilcene resident, said Tuesday that one of her priorities will be to make sure South County citizens are represented in the courthouse.

“If I am elected, I am going to take the opportunity to sit with the people who feel they are not being heard, for whatever reason,” she said.

Austin, a retired psychologist, moved to Port Ludlow from Minnesota in 2004 and was elected county commissioner in 2006 and 2010.

He said his most significant accomplishments have to do with environmental preservation, exchanging land with the state Department of Natural Resources to prevent clearcutting on Marrowstone Island and Port Ludlow properties, and preserving a park between Gibbs Lake and Beausite Lake south of Chimacum.

“A lot of things that happened in the county, like beginning the establishment of the Port Hadlock sewer system, would have happened without me, but helping to save this land is something that I will feel good about forever,” he said.

Austin sought to have the county acquire forestland between the Beausite Lake and Gibbs Lake county parks to create an expanded Gibbs Lake Park.

The state Department of Natural Resources withheld the timber on the land from the Silent Alder sale in 2010, preserving the forest there.

“This will be a jewel of a park, where people can ride their bikes and horses and enjoy nature,” Austin said. “It might become the best park in the county.”

Austin's tenure coincided with the recession and its impact on government.

“If government were funded at a level commensurate with the inflation rate and the value of the dollar, it would be able to function better,” he said.

“We are told that we need to tighten our belts, but there is not a lot of fat in this government, and if we don't do some things, there is a tremendous social cost,” he added.

“If we don't fix our roads periodically, we will need to replace the road beds, and if we don't vaccinate our children, there is a significant increase in disease.”

Austin said he was at first troubled by what he perceived to be unwarranted criticism before realizing that most of the people he came into contact with feel he is doing a good job and tell him so.

Once, he said, he was riding the bus when a constituent “began a rant against the county and the transit system and said he was never going to vote for me again,” which amused him because he had already decided not to run.

“There was another guy sitting on the bus who seemed like he was in his own world, that he wasn't paying attention, but when the first guy got off of the bus, he opened his eyes and said, 'I'll vote for you,'” Austin said.

“That was a very emotional experience.”

His experience with his fellow commissioners was fulfilling, Austin said, because “even if we disagreed on some things, we have always been civil and have listened to each other.”

After leaving office, Austin said, he plans to take a monthlong canoe trip in Minnesota, travel across the nation on a train, visit a friend in Turkey and hike the Olympic range.

“There are a lot of things I want to do that aren't possible as a commissioner,” Austin said.

“I was never comfortable leaving the county for more than 10 days at a time.”

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Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or cbermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: March 18. 2014 7:34PM
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