Jefferson County's south and west end residents feel ignored, county commissioner candidates say

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT LUDLOW — Those living outside East Jefferson County's largest population center, Port Townsend — especially those in the south and west ends of the county — often feel disenfranchised, according to the four candidates for the District 3 county commissioner position.

“The people in South County are different from the people in Port Ludlow, different from the people in Port Townsend and different from the people on the West End,” Kathleen Kler of Quilcene said during a candidate forum Thursday night attended by about 80 people.

“In that difference, we each offer something that the others don't have,” she said.

“We should talk to each other to see what we can offer distinctly without the old story of people being deprived at the expense of someone else, and communicate with each other so we can develop healthy communities throughout the county.”

Dan Toepper of Port Ludlow agreed.

“There is a feeling by South County and on the West End residents that they are being ignored,” he said.

“We need better communication. We need to be open, accountable and up-front so that people in Port Townsend understand what people need in Brinnon and people in Quilcene understand the challenges in Clearwater.

“Everyone in the county should take the time to talk to their officials and their neighbors, not just those next door who have the same lifestyle or economic status, so we can figure out what will work for everyone.”

The forum at the Beach Club in Port Ludlow was sponsored by the League of Women Voters, the American Association of University Women and the Port Townsend & Jefferson County Leader, whose publisher, Scott Wilson, served as moderator.

Kler, 64, is the only Democrat in the race. Toepper, 53, and Brinnon resident Joe Baisch, 66, filed with no party preference, while Alex Borgeson, 44, also of Port Ludlow, filed as an independent.

The top two vote-getters in the Aug. 5 primary will advance to the Nov. 4 general election with the winner earning a four-year term to succeed two-term Commissioner John Austin, who is not running for re-election.

District 3 covers Port Ludlow, Quilcene, Brinnon, Shine and Gardiner in East Jefferson County as well as West Jefferson County.

Ballots will be mailed to registered voters Wednesday.

“There is a perception that people are ignored in Quilcene,” said Borgeson, who is retired from the Air Force.

“But a lot of people who live there live there on purpose. They live in the woods and don't want a lot of government interference.

“From the beginning of time, the wealthy have always had more access to government, and a lot more wealthy people live in the city than out in the country.

“But if I'm elected, I'll be down there listening to people to see what people want and what their needs are.”

Toepper, a retired heavy-equipment operator, said South County residents feel disenfranchised because they aren't part of a UGA, or urban growth area.

“Without a UGA, you don't get a lot of the benefits that you get in denser areas, when you are situated away from the rest of the population,” he said.

Baisch, who retired from Boeing, said the Growth Management Act is the cause of the disenfranchisement.

“We are losing family-wage jobs in the county,” he said.

“I would like to see some new infrastructure in place so we can get more businesses in the county to encourage job development.”

Borgeson agreed.

“We need to promote a better business climate,” he said.

“Young people need to leave the county in order to make a living, and young families seem to be disappearing.

“A lot of other places do a better job than we do in business development.

“If the county promoted business growth and helped with permits being quicker, it would be easier for businesses to get started.”

Kler asked: “How do we develop a safety net when there aren't living-wage jobs?

“How do we educate our children when the schools can't pass their bond issues?

“We need to decide what it takes for us as a county to be healthy and to school our children for a future that is unknown to us.”

During her opening statement, Kler, a retired nurse, clarified a personal trait that she said had raised questions among the public.

“I had Bell's palsy. I have never had a stroke,” she said.

“My smile is twisted, and I can tell you my sense of humor is also.”

The county commissioner candidates are in the middle of a busy week.

A forum was held at the Chimacum Grange on Wednesday night, and two more are scheduled.

The candidates will appear from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday at the Brinnon Booster Club, 151 Corey St. Candidates for Jefferson County sheriff have also been invited.

A public forum is planned at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Quilcene Community Center, 294952 U.S. Highway 101.

For information about North Olympic Peninsula primary election candidates and an overview of a proposed levy lid lift for Jefferson County Fire District No. 4 of Brinnon, check for the North Olympic Peninsula Primary Voter Guide 2014, distributed with this Friday's Peninsula Daily News.

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

Last modified: July 12. 2014 8:49PM
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