Going Out on a (Hemp) Limb at County Candidate Forum


In politics, you sometimes have to go out on a limb. So I will. Here goes: I’m pretty sure that industrial hemp won’t solve Grays Harbor’s economic or budget woes. But county commission candidate Jamie Nichols (D) seems to think so.

Give her some credit. At least Nichols is consistent. She only mentioned growing hemp like, about a dozen, like, totally, times, ya know, at, like, tonight’s candidate forum in Hoquiam. Like, whoa. Dude. Totally.

About 40 Harborites turned out to hear county and PUD commish candidates/incumbents at tonight’s candidate forum. Held at the Events on Emerson facility in Hoquiam, the forum was hosted by the Grays Harbor League of Women voters. County Commissioner incumbents Wes Cormier and Frank Gordon and challengers Jamie Nichols and Randy Ross fielded questions submitted by the audience. Also included were incumbent PUD commish Dave Timmons and challenger Dave Jennings.

Moderated by KBKW’s Dave Haviland, the Q and A type forum lasted about 90 minutes. Questions touched on a number of topics, ranging from county budget and economic woes to oil by rail to homelessness.

One thing came through loud and clear among the county commish candidates: two have their ducks in a row. Two are still looking for the pond.

The inevitable Where do you stand on the proposed oil terminal ? made an early appearance. Responses from county commish and commish wannabes went like:

Leading off, Commissioner Frank Gordon said he was “against it 100%.” He said the dangers of “permanent damage” to families, farms, jobs, wildlife and habitat isn’t worth the “few jobs – like maybe 25” the terminal may bring in. Referencing the “potential environmental disaster” an oil spill might generate, Gordon said, “We need jobs, but not the types of jobs that can destroy us.”

Challenger Randy Ross said that sitting county commissioners have no control over the crude oil decision. He said there’s a “due process procedure in place to address the issue of shipping crude by rail here.”

Challenger Jamie Nichols opposes the idea, saying “We don’t have the proper infrastructure for oil trains in Grays Harbor.”
Commissioner Wes Cormier said that one of the first things a county commissioner does when assuming office is to swear an oath to the Washington State and U.S. Constitutions. “That’s my first job,” he said. Noting that the issue is federal, Cormier said it “doesn’t belong at the county level.” He said that if more elected officials focus on what they can change instead of on what they can’t, “we’d get more done.”

Another question concerned the best way to fix the county budget.

“That’s a toughie,” said Gordon, adding that we “have to get the state legislature to quit sending down unfunded mandates” to the county level. “We need people to start squawking and saying, ‘hey, give us some relief down here.’ He said the county will probably have to cut more services to address budget woes, “which we really don’t want to do.”

“The biggest way to fix the county budget is to grow the economy” responded Ross. “To fix the budget, we have to live within our means by setting priorities… to blame the state legislature is easy, but it doesn’t do us any good.”

Ms. Moonbeam observed that the county budget is “not looking very good” and “a lot of services are going to have to be cut.” She wants to figure out how to grow as a county and provide more jobs, “like growing hemp for industrial purposes.” and generating more manufacturing jobs… presumably to house more hemp harvests.

Emphasizing his track record of fiscal conservatism, Cormier noted that his budget proposal of $26M was under current projections of $27M in revenue. Also that he’s been out-voted “on numerous items” related to county budget expenditures.

Regarding the best way to help the county’s homeless veterans, Cormier said there’s “no silver bullet” on the issue. He serves on the Veteran’s Relief Committee and has taken recent interest in the “smaller building” concept. He noted that the county Health Dept. recently passed a Ten Year Plan as a “first step toward solving the problem and getting people the help they need.”

“I just fund out about the Veteran’s Fund,” chirped Ms. Moonbeam, saying she heard about it an Ocean Shores event about a month ago.  Her solution to vet homelessness? “The county needs to make sure these vets are getting funding.”

Ross said the county has “a large homeless issue, like the rest of the state,” and that “we’re not acting fast enough. We need an immediate action plan.” He noted that many issues come with homelessness, citing mental and drug problems. “We need to do more, more quickly.”

A vet himself, Gordon said the lack of care of homeless vets “makes him sick.” He expressed frustration with the “narrow guidelines” the state legislature sets on using state funds to help vets. “The programs we got going on now are an absolute joke,” he said.

When asked what the biggest problem facing the county in 2017 is, Gordon targeted the budget. “We’ve let a lot of stuff slide for a long time. Now it’s catch-up time.”

Ross said the budget, lack of revenue and loss of institutional knowledge are big problems. “We need to live within our means and grow the tax revenue as we do that,” he said.

Nichols said the biggest problem is a lack of hemp. Naw. Not really. Echoing Ross’s comments about the number of people with long years of county experience perched on the rim edge of retirement, she said the county “needs to emphasize cross-training.” (Where has she been? Oh. Never mind.) “A lot of knowledge is walking out the door,” Nichols observed, adding this stroke of brilliance: “We need to utilize the sources we have now.”

Cormier also said the most difficult issue is the budget, “but I’m optimistic. I don’t think government creates jobs. What we can do at county is to help residents navigate” the process so they can create jobs. (Translation for libs: private sector. Free market. Entrepreneurs.) Cormier also wants to propose more ideas “to make people freer to build and play in Grays Harbor.”

All four commish candidates agreed that the jail should be a priority when it comes to spending the $ coming to the county via the recently passed three-tenths of one percent “public safety tax.”

Cormier favored putting the funds toward corrections and deputies working in the jail. Nichols wants more employees for Sheriff Rick Scott and County Prosecutor Katie Svoboda. Ross said the jail is a top priority. He also wants to get Svoboda more money to start a drug court. The 3/10ths of 1% “is just a band-aid, not a solution” he noted, “We still have to grow the economy.” Gordon concurred.

A closing question was, What data do you use to measure the success of your policy? Interesting responses here.

Cormier said “I think you are the measurement of success.” He said commishes have to “re-apply for our job” every four years, and the best way to measure future success is based on one’s track record. “You elect us to work on your behalf.”

Ms. Clueless in Commish Land mentioned looking at “stats available on-line” and “looking at what other counties did to solve their problems” – which is sort like quoting Aristophanes when someone asked you how to make a peanut butter sandwich. Emphasizing her “good relationships with local officials and state legislators” – she and Rep. Brian Blake are going to go shooting this weekend! – Moonbeam Babe said, “These relationships are huge to getting things done at the county, rather than sitting at a desk thinking you know what the public needs.”

Put down the bong.

Ross said the measurement should be quantitative  – a balanced budget, economic growth, larger tax base and more jobs – as well as subjective – “After four years, did I leave the county a better place than when I got here?”

Gordon said he “fought like a dog” to “get the judges to drop their lawsuit against us” and noted the number of boards he serves on and that bring money to the county. He said, “I’m very, very proud of everything I’ve done up there” (at county) and reiterated his opposition to crude by rail.

In their one-minute wrap-ups, Gordon said he thinks he “represents the majority of people in Grays Harbor – their needs, dreams, and wants for the better.” He said he’s looking to the future and running for his grandkids and their kids. Ross said he’ll bring “team work, dignity, professionalism and respect” back to the District 2 seat, and that his business background will enable him to do so.

Nichols, who was clearly in over her head after about Minute 2, said “we need jobs” and focuses on infrastructure, public safety, expanding the port and – tada! – growing industrial hemp. Citing her opposition to crude by rail, she said, “If hemp spills, it’s going to go through the system and clean up the water.” (I am not making this up.)

“It’s an honor to serve the people of this county” said Cormier. Saying he’s “kept his word on everything I said I’d do,” Cormier cited his annual town hall meetings, emphasis on transparency in government, creation of a new committee to curtail nepotism and favoritism in county hiring, implementing building exemptions, and instituting a weekly Media Q and A session. “I’m not running from my record,” he concluded, “I’m running on my record.”

And that, folks, is a wrap. Not to be confused with… oh, never mind.