By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News
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“During his years as a commissioner, John has done us all proud,” said Port Ludlow resident John Fabian, a former space shuttle pilot, at the Tuesday night meeting in Quilcene.
“He will be an extremely tough act to follow and has done a great job for Jefferson County,” Fabian added.
Austin’s announcement that he won’t run for re-election this year was made before about 70 people at the Twana Road House.
He has said he wants to spend more time with his family and travel.
The commissioner, who turns 73 on April 4, has been elected twice to the District 3 position, which includes Port Ludlow, Quilcene, Brinnon and the western part of the county that extends to the Pacific Ocean.
A retired psychologist, he moved to Port Ludlow from Minnesota in 2004 and was elected county commissioner in 2006 and 2010.
Fabian said that since Austin is the chairman of the Board of Commissioners, he is effectively the president of Jefferson County, prompting one attendee to shout out “Austincare!”
Said Commissioner David Sullivan, who along with Phil Johnson serves alongside Austin: “Success in politics comes when you elect the right people.”
“If you can get somebody who cares, somebody who listens and has values similar to yours, you know you have the right person,” Sullivan said.
“You made the right decision in electing John Austin,” he continued. “We were rewarded by his dedication and his service.
“The only thing I probably won’t miss,” Sullivan said, “is the cuckoo clock on the wall of his office,” adding in an aside to Austin, “If something happens to it before you leave, I didn’t do it.”
Longtime Democratic Party member Dave Woodruff recalled that when Austin first ran for office, he had lived in the county for just two years, which caused some wariness.
Woodruff said his doubts disappeared when he saw the level of dedication that Austin brought to his campaign.
“Sometimes, people look at those who are new to the community and say they aren’t ready to run for office,” Woodruff said.
“But new people can make a difference if they come with the right ideas and campaign the right way.”
Austin spoke for only a few minutes, disclosing his plans with little fanfare.
After the tribute speeches, Democrat Kathleen Kler of Quilcene took the microphone to announce that she will be a candidate for the seat that Austin will vacate at the end of the year.
“I care for my community and really care about this county,” Kler said.
“I’ve received an immense amount of support and encouragement from friends and family.”
The candidate filing period will be May 12-16 for the August primary and November general elections.
Kler, 63, has been attending county commissioner meetings for a year and said she has paid close attention to the inner workings of county government.
“There are a lot of people who don’t understand what county government can and can’t do, and there are issues we don’t have the jurisdiction to address,” Kler said.
“It boils down to funding. If we don’t have the money, we can’t offer the programs.”
Kler said she would not have run if Austin had chosen to make a bid for re-election.
Kler is a member of the county Parks and Recreation and Port Townsend Film Festival boards.
No other candidates have made a public declaration to run for the now-open seat.
Jefferson County Republican Chairman Gene Farr did not return a call for comment Wednesday.
Kler said she expects opposition.
“It would say something very sad about citizen participation if no one else chose to run,” she said.
If elected, she said, she would spend time in the western part of the county and bring those concerns to the other commissioners.
“There is the story that the people in District 3 aren’t being heard in Port Townsend,” Kler said.
“I hope that will change, that people know that I am approachable, I listen, and I live here.”
Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or email@example.com.