QUILCENE— Jefferson County Commissioner Kathleen Kler, the first woman chair of the commission, will not seek re-election to her District 3 seat.
Her four-year term, her first, expires in December 2018. Democrat Ryan McAllister of Brinnon has announced he will run for her seat, filing formally during candidate filing week May 14-18. The primary election is Aug. 6 and the general election is Nov. 6.
Kler — whose district includes Quilcene, Port Ludlow, Brinnon, Discovery Bay, Coyle and Queets/Clearwater — announced her plan Friday.
“The reason is the health and future health status of my husband, David Hakkenson, who received a definitive diagnosis of Alzheimer’s through the University of Washington Brain and Wellness Center,” said Kler, 67, a Democrat who lives in Quilcene.
“We’re very lucky to have a research facility that is on the cutting edge of dementia problems. In David’s family, he’s the fourth of six siblings diagnosed with Alzheimer’s,” she said.
“I think we were hoping against hope that some of the patterns of forgetfulness and word loss had to do with something other than an organic dementia problem.”
Kler said that the couple has known for over a year and they haven’t kept the news private.
“It’s important that people understand when names are forgotten or dates are confused that there really is something going on. As much as both of us are in the public, we both agreed that is it important that the diagnosis is out in the open.”
Haakenson is woodworker whose work has been shown at the Port Townsend Gallery. Among other work, he is known for his coat rack art, the Haakkler Hook.
Kler said her husband has been completely supportive both during her campaign and during the busy schedule that she’s kept as county commissioner.
“In the past year we’ve had deep conversations with the family, the clinic, and each other on whether we could continue with another four years of my commission work,” she said.
“It became increasingly clear that I wanted to be home more. I need to be there for him in the same way he has been for me.”
Kler was the second woman elected as a county commissioner, after Wendi Wrinkle’s District 3 victory over Pat Rodgers in 2002, and the third to serve; Judith Mackey was named to replace Wrinkle who resigned in 2003. In January 2016, Kler was the first woman to be elected to chair the commission.
She said the irony is that she feels she’s come into full stride with her work.
“It made the decision truly excruciatingly difficult,” she said. “To have to give up the investment of knowledge and how to work with the system, the relationships with different staff in Washington, D.C., and in the state, and our own staff. It takes time and I really do regret not being able to use all of this experience for another four years.”
Kler has a bachelor’s degree in nursing and was one of the first nurses to work with AIDS patients in Spokane, she said. She worked with sexual assault victims, and burn victims and was a hospice nurse. Her differing roles included interaction with detectives and the courts.
The retired registered nurse is now an artist.
Kler — a former member of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and the Port Townsend Film Institute Board, who has worked with the Forest Stewardship Program — has been involved with civic and nonprofit volunteerism throughout her life and hopes to continue in some way with advocacy projects, she said.
“I have another nine months to continue to work on the issues that affect the lives and livelihood of our residents. In fact, not campaigning will free me to do even more for my constituents this year.”
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected].