Clallam voters reveal split personality - Divided between populist, progressive government

    Nov. 8, 2007

    By Jim Casey, Peninsula Daily News  
    Page A5


    PORT ANGELES, WA-   The voters have spoken -- out of both sides of their mouths.

    Preliminary results from the election that ended Tuesday reveal a split personality of Clallam County residents that’s divided between progressive government and populism.

    Voters appeared to be reelecting Steve Tharinger, a Democrat who supports salmon restoration and farmland preservation, to a third four-year term as a county commissioner.

    However, they said they didn’t want him or  his colleagues to appoint the director of the Department of Community Development.

    Moreover, they were emphatic in forbidding the county to use eminent domain -- the forced sale of private property for a public project -- for the primary purpose of economic development.

    John H. Miller views the implicit contradiction from three angles.  He is chairman of the Charter Review Comission whose proposals just went before voters, the elected director of community development, and a former chairman of Clallam County Democrats.

    County unusual

    The county is unusual in having a home-rule charter.

    It is one of only six of 39 Washington counties to have their own virtual constitutions.

    The other five charter counties are urban.  They elect county councils by districts and elect a county administrator.

    “We have this holdover from the l9th century,” Miller said, by retaining the rural structure of three commissioners who are nominated in their districts but who are elected at large.

    Furthermore, the populist movement that fathered the charter seemed to vanish when voters abolished the elected position of county clerk.

    The sentiment resurfaced, though, five years ago when voters changed the development director’s job from an appointed post into an elected one.

    And they were sticking with their decision as of Tuesday by a 57 to 47 percent margin.

    Miller has another three years in his current term, and he said the election represented a vote of confidence in how he and his elected predecessor, Rob Robertsen, performed their jobs.

    Miller hasn’t decided whether he’ll seek re-election.

    Issues identified

    Miller has, however, identified the long-postponed storm water ordinance and a complementary clearing and grading law as what he hopes to see county commissioners approve.

    Environmentalists have  sought the regulations for years, but Miller said he foresees resistance from builders and developers.

    In the meantime, he said Wednesday, he was “extremely gratified” by Tharinger’s re-election.

    Forde offered a choice

    Sue Forde doesn’t see things Miller’s way.

    Wife of Tharinger’s Republican opponent, Bob Forde, and Tharinger’s challenger herself four years ago, she said voters “didn’t get the message” that the incumbent commissioner favors more government regulation.

    Bob Forde trailed Tharinger by a 58 to 42 percent margin Tuesday, but Sue Forde said her husband had given voters a choice and that incumbents shouldn’t be given free passes into office.

    No candidate had filed to run against Tharinger when last summer’s deadline passed, so Republicans got another week to field a nominee.

    They chose Bob Forde.

    Sue Forde also was a staunchly conservative member of the Charter Review Commission who championed electing the development director and limiting eminent domain.

    However, she noted another idiosyncrasy in Clallam County’s election:

    Most voters tallied as of Tuesday want to wait eight years, not five, before electing another charter review group.

    Panel closest to people

    The charter commission fills a role of “government closest to the people,” she said, and voters ought to pay sharper attention to how the county is run.

    Tharinger also noted voters’ inconsistency in re-electing him but limiting his authority.

    “If you focus on the land-use side of it, you could say there’s a thread of property rights and some Western populism of voters wanting to have a say in how things are run,” he said.

    Clallam County remains too rural, he said, for an expanded county council and elected administrator.

    The crucial question for voters, he said, is whether they perceive that elected officials are acting in citizens’ broad interest.

    In Sequim and Port Angeles, incumbent city council members were being turned out of office as of Tuesday in what Tharinger called “a change of mind.”

    “However, they’re supporting an incumbent at the county commissioner level, so generally they think the county’s doing a pretty good job.

    “I think overall they’re pretty confident in the way the county is being operated.”





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