SAME PRINCIPLE AS IN ABE LINCOLN’S TIME – Jack Galbraith is taller than Honest Abe and probably the tallest of the 13 candidates at last Thursday’s forum. Vote for seven to represent you. They will be District 1 Freeholders, developing a county charter if voters approve Proposition 1, which says ‘yes, elect freeholders to write a charter.’ – Photo by Ken Stern
It was anything but politics as usual during the two- hour candidates forum at Maple Hall Thursday night. Information and not defamation was the prevailing theme. Thirteen of 28 candidates vying to be non-paid County Commission District 1 freeholders charged with crafting a new blueprint for Skagit government should voters approve a November 6 ballot initiative shared their views and helped clarify the multi-step process. It’s a format with which most at the well-attended event weren’t familiar upon arrival. “Do you realize,” La Conner area resident Stuart Hutt asked moderator Gary Wickman of Home Rule Skagit at the start, “that most people don’t know what this is about? By night’s end that had changed. Wickman and publisher Ken Stern of La Conner Weekly News, who organized the session, took turns explaining that voters will have the choice of either supporting or opposing the charter in their vote over Proposition 1. A “yes” vote approves the election of Freeholders. Voting no defeats the measure. Separately, voters select seven from the list of freeholders. If Proposition 1 passes, Freeholders will develop a new county governance structure. Interestingly, the candidate panel at Maple Hall was split between charter advocates and foes. La Conner area farmer and Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension Educator Don McMoran, seeking Freeholder Position 6, aligned with the latter group. “I’m opposed to the charter,” he said at one point. “I like our county commissioners. They’re fabulous people.” McMoran voiced support for the present tri-member county commission system that blends executive and legislative duties, pointing out that county executives and councilors don’t always enjoy smooth working relationships. Still, McMoran said should the charter measure be approved his background as a writer of grants and reports would serve him and the public well as a freeholder. Skagit County Planning Commissioner Annie Lohman; self-described “gentleman farmer” Mark Hurd, a U.S. Navy and Air Force retiree who helped develop air defense systems after 9-11; technical writer Roger Mitchell; and Anacortes City Council member Matt Miller were among those freeholder candidates joining McMoran as opposed to the charter.
“If it passes,” Hurd vowed, “I will do my best to serve all interests.” Mitchell said that a likely county executive-county council system formed under a charter “would distance people from decision-makers.” Mitchell, also an EMT-Firefighter and U.S. Air Force veteran, vowed if elected to base his input on “research-based facts, not ideology.” A number of the candidates were familiar to the predominately – and fairly large – La Conner area audience of close to 40 people. Former Town Administrators Shani Taha and John Doyle; La Conner High alum and Swinomish Tribal Community member Lona Wilbur; and La Conner High assistant basketball coach Danny Hagen, a GIS specialist and data base manager with Skagit County spoke in favor of the charter. Doyle endorsed the separation of powers inherent with a county executive-county council approach. “It’s a more representative form of government,” said Doyle, running for Freeholder Position 4. “It’s the form of government prescribed in our (national) constitution. The commissioners do the best job they can, but complexities require greater representation. I think this is a good step in the right direction.” Taha and Wilbur said the charter could provide greater representation for rural and smaller population areas like La Conner. “It would absolutely allow a greater voice for smaller communities,” said Taha, who has over 30 years experience in government, and is seeking the Freeholder Position 3 slot. Wilbur, who has filed for Freeholder Position 5, cited her deep roots here in public service. “My family,” she said, “has been in Skagit County for many, many generations and I grew up learning the value of serving the community. I was raised to have a role in civic engagement. What I bring to the table is a voice, and our main task (as freeholders) would be to be your voice.” Hagen, 31, perhaps the lone thirtysomething in the room, alluded to his relative youth as an asset for Position 1, with freeholders anticipating being charged with drafting a charter to meet changing times. “The more voices, the better,” he said, referring to the prospect of empaneling a larger county council. “The more we can bring together, the better product we can have in the end.” Other candidates speaking in support of the Charter Thursday were Margery Hite, Bow, Position 2; Keith Rubin, Anacortes, Position 3; Konrad Kurp, Anacortes, Position 4 and Jack Galbraith, La Conner, Position 7. While the tone of Thursday’s forum was respectful and serious, it wasn’t without moments of levity. One was provided by Swinomish Tribal Community Environmental Services Director Larry Wasserman, a candidate for Freeholder Position 6, who was unable to attend due to a medical issue. In his absence, Wasserman’s candidate profile was read aloud by Rick Shorten of Home Rule Skagit. “Public speaking and pain medication is not a good combination,” Shorten said, reading from Wasserman’s prepared text that explained his absence. Wasserman favors the charter because it can provide greater diversity in terms of representation. He added that his issues of interest include flood control and climate change. For a complete list of District 1 Freeholder positions and candidates, consult the Oct. 3 issue of La Conner Weekly News.