Field of candidates still narrow for Jefferson County commissioner’s seat

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — Two weeks after incumbent Jefferson County District 3 Commissioner John Austin announced he would not seek a third term, only one person has declared for the vacancy.

Austin, 72, 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, but declined to run again citing personal and family related reasons.

In conjunction with Austin’s announcement, Kathleen Kler, 63, of Quilcene, announced that she would run for the vacant seat, something she had been considering in anticipation of Austin’s retirement.

Kler said she would not have run if Austin sought a third term.

Candidate filing begins April 28 by mail and May 12 for online and in-person declarations, and all must be submitted by 4:30 p.m. May 16.

Kler and Austin are both Democrats.

Jefferson County Republican Party chairman Gene Farr said Monday that he did not know of any party members interested in the race.

“We have not identified any candidate who is running that we are willing to support.”

Ron Gregory, Farr’s predecessor as chair, hasn’t heard of any interest.

“I’d like to see some sharp candidate step forward, but right now not one person has stepped forward,” he said.

In 2010, Austin was opposed by two candidates, neither of whom will be running this year.

Diane Johnson, an independent from Quilcene, said she planned to run but changed her mind due to her mother’s illness and a new job.

Johnson was eliminated in the primary, coming in third after Austin and Republican Jim Boyer.

Primary voters are from the district only while the county at large votes in the general election, where Austin prevailed.

Boyer said he won’t run this year because the land-use issues that were the basis of his 2010 campaign are no longer at play, and the rejection of a county charter process in November showed that Port Townsend will continue to dominate the rest of the county politically.

One of the issues that charter advocates supported was the election of commissioners by the individual districts rather than the county at large.

Brinnon Parks and Recreation Commissioner Nicole Black said that several people have encouraged her to run but she has not made a decision, citing time constraints along with a respect for Kler’s position.

Black said she would like to run for the state Legislature but feels she would be a successful county commissioner were she to run and win.

“I want to run for something this year,” she said.

“I’ll make up my mind during filing week.

“My decision to run for county commissioner will depend on who else is running at the time.”

In 2010, Austin had two declared opponents for several weeks before filing.

In 2012 incumbent District 2 Commissioner David Sullivan had no opposition until the afternoon of the final filing day.

Kler doesn’t want to win the seat without competition.

“Any time there is more than one person running there is a dialogue and exchange of ideas,” Kler said.

“If only one person runs, that says something very sad about the county and citizen participation.”

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

Last modified: March 31. 2014 6:23PM
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