Local candidates for positions on the November 6 election ballot got their last chance to air their views at a forum Tuesday night at the Grays River Grange.
Candidates described their goals and experience, and they answered questions from an audience that numbered close to 70.
Here are some of the highlights:
State Senator, District 19
Speaking were incumbent Sen. Brian Hatfield, a Democrat, and Republican challenger Rick Winsman.
Hatfield chairs the Senate Agriculture, Water & Rural Economic Development Committee and serves on the Economic Development, Trade & Innovation and the Ways & Means committees.
He served in the House of Representatives 1994-2004, worked in the lieutenant governor's office, and was appointed to the Washington State Senate in 2006 and has won elections since then.
"The beat goes on," Hatfield said. He had earlier been in Olympia at a meeting of school officials, discussing how to put funding back into school food programs.
His committee assignments allow him to focus on economic development, and he will push for efforts that bring light manufacturing to rural areas.
The legislature will face a real challenge in the next session dealing with a state Supreme Court decision requiring an estimated $1 billion more funding of basic education programs.
Cowlitz County resident Rick Winsman has worked in business and recently retired after heading the Cowlitz County Chamber of Commerce for 7.5 years. In that position, he said, he found it very frustrating dealing with the legislature and state government and trying to get things done.
"We need to change representation," he said.
"It's the state's responsibility to create an atmosphere conducive to creating jobs," he said. "Government needs to get out of the way!"
Winsman added that he would like to see educational reform that puts education first in the budget and that puts responsibility for school success at the local level--teachers, administrators and parents.
"It's their responsibility to perform," he said. "If they don't, replace them. We have to hold them accountable."
Winsman also wants to reduce "regulatory strangulation" by reducing the number of state employees handling regulatory processes, and he would balance the state budget while supporting voter approved measures to control taxation.
State Representative, District 19 A
Cathlamet Republican Dixie Kolditz is challenging incumbent Democrat Rep. Dean Takko. Takko had a family commitment and couldn't attend the forum.
Kolditz told the crowd that she had three concerns.
One, she said, is improving education.
"We don't have the reason why education is not doing better," she said. "We don't know what we need to do to help teachers. Before we increase taxes, let's have a clearer explanation of why our children aren't doing better."
She also said the state needs to understand what it can do to help business. Permitting is a problem she said, and the process needs to be speeded up. The development of a coal shipping terminal in Longview could create jobs, but the permitting could take 3-5 years.
"I believe in smaller government," she said. "We shouldn't have as much government as we have. We could have a balanced budget and take care of the responsibilities we have."
State Representative, District 19 B
Longview computer businessman Tim Suttinen is running as an Independent and is challenging incumbent Democrat Brian Blake.
Blake opened by commenting that he has been part of the team including Hatfield and Takko who are working with county Commissioner Dan Cothren to obtain compensation for county timber trust land that is locked up for endangered species habitat and to help small counties add timberland to their trusts so that they can have increased revenue.
He has also been working very hard on fishery management issues, including responses to efforts in Oregon to eliminate or reduce gillnetting.
Suttinen is a champion of reduced government.
"The state needs jobs," he said. "It's clear how to get there--there's too much regulation. That comes from special interest groups who fund the campaigns of the legislators."
As an example of regulatory excess; Suttinen said that the legislature passed a law requiring computer manufacturers to register their brands. Before the measure, there were 3,000 manufacturers in the state; after, there were 200.
Blake commented that the legislature had passed the law to track computer equipment; much of it was being dumped illegally in rural areas. "It was a bill I struggled with," he said. "It was a reasonable attempt."
Suttinen also commented that corporations wield too much influence through their campaign contributions. "We need legislators who have the backbone to say no," he said.
When asked how he, an Independent, would have support for his bills and views in a two-party legislature, Suttinen replied that he would talk face to face with colleagues and develop support that way.
Wahkiakum/Pacific Superior Court Judge
Puget Island resident Dennis Gordon is challenging incumbent Mike Sullivan as a write-in candidate.
Gordon acknowledged that he doesn't have the qualification to serve as a judge--one must be a practicing attorney, but, he said, "I know right from wrong."
He said he was running to educate voters about the corruption in the Wahkiakum courts which he experienced in his divorce proceedings.
"All they did to me was to commit theft," he said. "They violated your trust."
County Commissioner, District 1
Greg Prestegard, a Democrat, and Mike Backman, Independent, are running for the position being vacated by Lisa Marsyla.
Prestegard said he would like to see commissioners work more closely than he's seen since he started attending commission meetings. He would also like to have department heads working closer with other officials.
"Everyone goes off in their own direction," he said. "There is no common bond. I would like to see them have more power in their own budget. If it's in their budget and the funding sources don't change, then they should be able to operate in that budget."
Prestegard said he wants to see a healthy economy in the county. "We need to help them in any way we can to make their businesses thrive," he said. "How are we going to do that? I can't tell you right now exactly what we can do."
Backman, a commercial fish buyer, said he has learned a lot from his doorbelling experience as a campaigner. "I've listened to the public," he said. "You can't represent people without talking to them."
Backman identified two principle issues: 1. He would like to make the county's budgeting process more transparent, and that he would like to see the county find cheaper sources of its supplies, and 2. he would like to work with the Chamber of Commerce and other entities for economic development. The county is getting more fiber optic cable that could support computer based businesses, he said.
The candidates were asked to describe their support for the county fair.
Backman responded that he has been a volunteer at the fair for years and would like to see the fair increase its attendance.
"I support the fair as far as we can within the budget," Prestegard said. "It's a beautiful facility. The fair board needs to come up with a way to get more funding."
The candidates were also asked their opinion of Columbia Land Trust and its purchase of lowlands to restore them to natural habitat.
Backman said the Land Trust sometimes hasn't taken into account how their activities affect neighboring lands. "They need to think about what they do," he said.
Prestegard said he understood why people would sell their land to the Land Trust, but he didn't like the way the Land Trust was "grabbing all this land that they're grabbing, take it out of production . . . "
Westend resident Esther Gregg pointed out that some landowners couldn't farm their land, or that it was uneconomical to farm it, and the Land Trust was an economic saviour for the land owners. The land trust also completes projects in phases as it obtains funding for them.
"Thank you for the clarification," Prestegard said. "How it has affected adjacent property is unacceptable. Perhaps the permitting process was too easy for them. Their projects need to be completed in a timely fashion."
County Commission, District 2
Joan Harvey Chester, a business operator, is challenging three-term incumbent Dan Cothren, who works in the timber industry. Both are running as Independents.
Chester said she decided to run for commissioner this year at the urging of other business owners. She had considered running four years ago.
The commission's responsibility is to balance the budget and to grow the county.
The commissioners need a long-term plan for growth, and they need to implement that plan.
Going door to door, she was often asked about the county's comprehensive plan. The planning commission completed an update several years ago and sent it to the board of commissioners seven years ago, but it has never been adopted.
Harvey said she read through the proposed plan, which was developed at a cost of nearly $99,000, and found it to be full of ideas for economic development.
"If elected, I would see the commission adopt it," she said. "It has a wealth of information. It talks about how we can bring jobs to the county."
Cothren focused his comments on his continuing efforts to increase revenues from the county's state managed timberlands. Some have had harvest restrictions to preserve endangered species habitat, and he has worked with state officials for passage of bills that would compensate the county for the lost revenue and also provide funds for purchase of more timberland to increase county revenue.
"I'm telling you, I've been a strong voice," he said. "This is a huge time. There are huge issues out there. The timber thing, that's our revenue. We don't have a large tax base."
Cothren said he has also led efforts to protect the commercial fishing industry from efforts to end or reduce gillnetting.
"People in the urban settings want to take our lifestyle away," he said. "We have to have a strong voice in Olympia, and I am that strong voice. I'm going to continue to do it."
As for the comprehensive plan, Cothren said the board had worked on revisions and were ready to adopt it, but some mapping issues arose, and they got the effort sidetracked.
"You can read all you want in that thing, but actually going out and doing things is something else," he said.
Grays River resident Bob Pyle asked Cothren why timber companies pay such low tax rates on their timberlands. Cothren replied that it was the legislature that set the rate.
Chester commented that her business background in Texas involved recruiting firms to relocate to the Dallas-Ft. Worth area.
"I know what it takes to bring young people to the county," she said.
Two Democrats are running for the position. Marlena Silva was appointed last winter to fill a vacancy; she previously worked in the banking industry for 22 years. Tammy Peterson has worked in county government for 19 years, including 12 years in the treasurer's office; she left a part-time job there last year to take a full time job in the auditor's office.
Silva said she has learned a lot in the last six months. She has undertaken an effort to reduce the county's banking fees, which total around $9,000 a year, and believes she has secured a $400 monthly reduction.
Peterson described her experience on the job; she said she would want to improve customer service in the office, and she would pursue negotiating reductions in banking fees if elected.
Wahkiakum PUD, Commissioner District 1
Retiring county Commissioner Lisa Marsyla is challenging incumbent Gene Healy, who was appointed to the PUD commission 18 months ago to fill a vacancy.
Marsyla, an accountant, served as PUD auditor for five years. She is completing her first term as a county commissioner. She said she is expanding her family through adoption and felt the time required for the PUD position would better suit her family responsibilities than the county commission position. She said that although she has a second home in Portland, she has a home and business on Puget Island and is a Wahkiakum County resident.
Her accounting background is her strength, she said.
Healy is a retired telephone company executive. This background has given him knowledge and managerial experience to understand issues facing the PUD. The PUD commission needs to create an environment where employees can succeed, he said; he won't micromanage operations.
In response to a question, Healy said the PUD manager is looking at the possibility of expanding the Western Wahkiakum Water System and believes it can be done economically through a local improvement district. The analysis is just getting started, he said.
In response to a question from Cathlamet Mayor George Wehrfritz, Marsyla said she is interested in talks between the PUD and the town over combining meter reading and billing service in the town.
The matter was discussed when she was auditor, but officials didn't pursue it.
She added she would also consider consolidation of some water system employees for the town and PUD.