PORT LUDLOW — Four candidates for Jefferson County Commissioner District 3 solidified their positions and answered questions from residents during the last League of Women Voters forum before the primary election Aug. 7.
During the 90-minute forum, Ryan McAllister (D), Craig Durgan (D), Greg Brotherton (D) and Jon Cooke (R) took turns discussing the need for the internet, land use, business development, jobs and affordable housing.
Co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the American Association of University Women, the event Wednesday was moderated by attorney Rick Shaneyfelt.
About 100 county residents attended the forum held at the Port Ludlow Beach Club. This was the last in a series that will resume for the Nov. 6 General Election.
The top two vote-getters in the primary will move on to the General Election, regardless of political party affiliation.
McAllister, a resident of Brinnon, is a health care professional in the emergency room at Jefferson Healthcare. He said he’s been attending county commission meetings since mid-2016 and realized he was the youngest person in the room by about 30 years.
“That was a big motivating factor of why my voice needs to be in county government,” McAllister said. “There’s not much for the working class and those of my age in our county. I understand we are a retirement community overall, but to sustain this we need young people.”
Port Ludlow resident Durgan said he was a merchant mariner for 40 years and most recently a port engineer responsible for two ships in Bremerton with $1 million budgets. He said his experience with budgets and managing complex things, people and equipment is “pretty much like the county.”
“As an engineer, I understand infrastructure and we desperately need infrastructure here in Jefferson County,” he said “Instead of sending our tax money to Sequim, Poulsbo or Silverdale, we can keep it here by building this county up to what our competitors are but still keeping our rural way of life.”
Brotherton moved his family to Quilcene in 2011 to reopen the last gas station in town. After two years, he moved to Discovery Bay where he took another shuttered convenience store and reopened it. He also opened the first cannabis shop on the North Olympic Peninsula, as well as a grocery store and an all-ages theater.
“We turned a kind of dead zone into a thriving area where people come and gather and be a community,” Brotherton said. “I served four years on the Quilcene school board and I learned a lot of the skills that will translate to being a good commissioner. We need to make it easier for people to scratch out a living on the land, build homes and small businesses. We aren’t going to get big box retail stores in rural Jefferson County. Farming is the biggest growth area in District 3.”
Cooke, a resident of Quilcene, said county government needs a reality check.
“In 2004, the last big comprehensive update, we were sitting at 4.5 percent unemployment,”said Cooke. “The state was higher, the national was higher. They decided we wanted to focus on small businesses and keep our rural character. Well, 14 years later in April , we were at 7 percent unemployment. The state was 4.5 percent, the federal was 3.9 percent. Something’s not working. We can’t lay at the feet all of our economic policies on small businesses.”
In response to a question about spraying herbicides near Chimacum Creek, all four were in agreement that pesticide use should not be allowed in the county and that mowing was the way to control invasive vegetation.
Job growth was discussed, with the candidates differing on the types of employment and businesses needed.
“The biggest export in this county is young people, McAllister said. “We need more trades and training here. The internet is a utility now and we want to work for ourselves.”
Brotherton said he employees 24 people who make a living wage. He believes that farming and small businesses will be the economic drivers in District 3.
“We are in the gig economy now,” Brotherton said. “We need to be flexible and give people the resources they need to make a living.”
Cooke said he believes that the county needs big businesses that will employ 100 people or more in order to survive and believes the area could compete with Silverdale if it had the infrastructure.
Durgin said that the younger workers “go where the jobs are.” He said he believes a sewer in Port Hadlock is what’s needed so businesses and housing can be built, providing workers affordable housing and supplying a workforce for companies. He said he believes that the county will go bankrupt if there is no movement on the sewer.
A question was asked about any of the candidates benefiting financially from building the Port Hadlock sewer. Three of the candidates said there was no conflict.
“I’ve had property there for 10 years and I’m growing weeds and paying the mortgage,”said Durgin.
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected]