A changing of the courthouse guard - 34 years of Democratic rule comes to an end

By Lary Coppola
Kitsap Business Journal


Kitsap County, WA - It’s been 34 years since Kitsap County has had a Republican majority ruling the Kitsap County Commission. The last time was when Bill Mahan was elected for his first term in 1968. Mahan later changed parties — and the balance of power swung to the Democrats — who ruled until Nov. 5.

When she originally announced, no one gave Patty Lent much of a chance of unseating first term incumbent Tim Botkin. Lent was a newcomer to politics. She was running on a local party ticket that couldn’t even field candidates for the open Treasurer’s seat, a Clerk‘s seat held by an appointee who had been defeated in a couple of other election bids, or against Auditor Karen Flynn, who, due to her blatantly partisan stand against the Charter and the problems with the Silverdale incorporation election, was perhaps the most vulnerable.

So, how did this mild-mannered, soft-spoken political novice not only beat the majority party incumbent, but literally spank him?

The new majority on the Kitsap County Commission. L-R. Jan Angel and newly elected Commissioner Patty Lent.

She not only solidly carried her own district — as she did in the primary — but South Kitsap and Bremerton as well as a third of North Kitsap and Bainbridge Island.

Some Republicans claim Lent is just a hard worker who had a good game plan, took advantage of Botkin’s overconfidence and just plain outworked him. The more strident say it’s a reaction to not only Botkin’s unbridled arrogance, but to his Smart Growth initiative. Still others state they didn’t vote for Lent, whose knowledge of the issues was suspect throughout the campaign, but simply against Botkin.

If Botkin had an Achilles heel, Smart Growth was it. On the surface, this election was his to lose. He had the power of incumbency and the majority party behind him, as well as serious money from both the environmental and development communities — camps that usually support opposing candidates. However, his Kitsap Smart Growth Coalition had brought these traditionally warring factions together and most members of the coalition supported him.

So what happened?

Botkin himself admitted that Smart Growth probably cost him the election. “I can see that I was not as effective in the political world in helping people see what it is we were working on. I’m good at working on stuff, and getting results, but not as good as I needed to be at communicating that.”

He also acknowledged that not defining a clear vision of what Smart Growth “could be” was a mistake, but said he had hoped the election would hinge on more than that one issue. “The fact that the opponents of Smart Growth were able to demonize the concept in the eyes of the voters was the problem.”

Most noticeably absent, supporting neither candidate, were the politically active Homebuilders Association (HBA) and the Kitsap County Association of Realtors (KCAR).

The HBA decision makers were about evenly split over which candidate to support. President David Smith and Immediate Past President Mike Brown, both active participants in the Smart Growth Coalition, were passionate supporters of Botkin. Meanwhile, other members were just as vocal in their support of Lent. In the end, the HBA decided not to endorse either candidate.

It was the issue of Impact fees — and how much they will be raised, that mainly kept the HBA on the sidelines. The issue is a major political football within the organization itself. Frustrated builders are already hurting due to a severe shortage of lots to build on, and a recent 30 percent increase in permit fees. Botkin couldn’t assure the group impact fees wouldn’t be raised more than what was acceptable.

Lent said she opposed any increases, but admitted she really didn’t know much about the issue at all or how to address it.

Meanwhile, the Realtors, who are in complete organizational disarray, were total non-players and didn’t endorse either candidate. The group’s annual election of officers was postponed. Executive Officer Larry Johnson quit after a small group with its own agenda and slate of potential officers continued to question his integrity — even after a financial audit failed to find any irregularities. Former long-time Executive Officer Mary Jane Anderson is filling in until the group’s internal politics are resolved.

The Kitsap Alliance of Property Owners (KAPO) heavily supported Lent. Its members, who are mainly Republicans, worked hard behind the scenes for her. A group called the American Dream Coalition, as well as a private individual who works at PSNS both ran privately funded anti-Botkin campaigns, which Lent immediately disavowed in the strongest terms.

Republicans also tend to turn out heavily when there are money and tax issues on the ballot — of which there were several. These included a Botkin-supported levy lift, which would have given the county the authority to raise property taxes more than the state-mandated one percent.

“I think the voters sent a very clear message they don’t want any more taxes and they expect their county commissioners to do more with less,” said Democrat Party Chairman John Morgan. He added, “But I don’t know what the two Republican commissioners are going to do to make the pie any bigger.”

Meanwhile Republican Party Chair Shirley Brown basically echoed Morgan, but added, “We have no choice but to do a serious review of the budget and/or core functions of county government. We’re at a point now with the passage of I-747 and the mood of the voters, that we have to look at more than just maintenance leveling.”

Angel and the commission chair

In a highly questionable procedural move, South Kitsap Commissioner Jan Angel — the lone Republican — was denied what had traditionally been her turn to chair the commission by Botkin and fellow Democratic Commissioner Chris Endresen. Did that have any impact? It certainly seemed to. South Kitsap voters, who were incensed by what most viewed as a blatantly political power play when it happened, came out very heavily against Botkin — who took what should have been Angel’s turn as chair.

“I think aceing Jan out of the chair did alienate a lot of voters,” lamented Morgan. “It really was a petty thing to do.”

A new attitude?

What changes will the new Republican majority make?

According to Angel, she and Lent hope to instill a new spirit of cooperation at the courthouse.

“First and foremost, we want to foster better relations with the staff,” said Angel. “A ‘can-do’ attitude and a spirit of team work between the commissioners and among the staffers themselves. Government is, after all, a customer service organization. The way it is now, we hire good people, but we don’t let them do their jobs, which is serving the citizens of Kitsap County. That needs to change.”

Endresen said she feels the same way. “Better customer service in the permitting area is another goal that I don’t expect will change. I also am committed to continuing our efforts to find better transportation solutions. I think it’s very important for the county as a whole to work towards economic diversification.”

The budget and staffing

Angel said she did expect there would be some personnel moves as the Republicans took control. She declined to be specific, but noted that the budget would play a big part in decisions to realign some positions, move some people, rewrite some job descriptions and in some cases, the elimination of some positions.

Angel, whose career includes working as a business banker, mortgage banker and real estate professional, in addition to owning her own business, feels she and Lent — who has also owned her own business and worked in international marketing — bring experience to the table that has been lacking.

“Patty and I both come from business backgrounds,” Angel said. “In the interest of saving the taxpayers hard earned money, we intend to look harder at running this government more like a business than it’s ever been before. That means maximizing the efficient use of personnel, equipment and facilities wherever possible.”
Angel openly admitted that neither of them knew all the inner workings of each and every county department, but she did say, “You don’t have to play first chair flute to know how to conduct the orchestra.”

The county is facing a budget crunch the likes of which it hasn’t seen in recent memory. Lent and Angel’s business acumen will certainly be tested — and they anticipate some resistance from Endresen. As the lone Democrat they expect her to fight budget-cutting measures that impact traditional Democratic constituencies and projects. One such item is the funding of some of the county’s 50+ boards and commissions. Another casualty could be funding for the Kitsap Regional Economic Development Council (KREDC) — of which Endresen is a board member.
Lent said during her campaign that, based on its tracj record, she didn’t believe the KREDC was very cost effective. She is also on record as supporting the removal of executive director, Zoltan Szigethy.

Endresen took a non-committal approach, saying only, “I am looking forward to meeting with Patty to discuss her goals and the issues she wants to focus on. As a board member of the EDC, I welcome her ideas and input.”
But Endresen, who is up for re-election two years from now — as is Angel — has her own skill set where business is concerned. She and her husband operated a bonded customs warehouse business in Seattle and she too has worked locally as a Realtor.

“It seems that Jan and Patty value economic development as much as I do,” commented Endresen. “My goals for Kitsap are to have more family wage jobs so that people can live and work here, to protect and enhance the quality of life so that not only our children, but their children will have parks to play in, clean air and clean water in the future.”

The fate of Smart Growth

But aside from the budget, the biggest question mark is the fate of Smart Growth — a concept in which Botkin invested the county heavily.

Lent ran hard on an anti-Smart Growth platform, which is why she was supported so strongly by KAPO who has been very vocal in its opposition. The group has attempted to educate the public about what it considers the blatant abridgement of private property rights by bringing in anti-Smart Growth speakers such as Randall O’Toole. Endresen, who supports Smart Growth, has had her run-ins with KAPO and especially its executive director, Vivian Henderson.

Brown said that, “The fact of the matter is, we spent a lot of staff time and county revenue, and still don’t have a firm definition of what he (Botkin) meant when he spoke of Smart Growth. It’s fine to imagine things 20 years from now, but it’s a much more difficult task to take care of what’s going on right now. If you take care of today, you’ll have a tomorrow.”

When pressed, Angel acknowledged the way Smart Growth has been defined by opponents such as KAPO would make it difficult for it to survive — at least by that name. “Perhaps revisiting the concept under another name, such as ‘Kitsap Livability’ or something is the answer,” she said. She added that Botkin’s lack of specifics and inability to create a vision of exactly what Smart Growth means for Kitsap County has given its opponents the upper hand in the debate.

Endresen didn’t want to see the group disband. “The most important thing for Kitsap is to keep the dialogue flowing among the many diverse interests who comprise the Kitsap Smart Growth group,” she said.

Botkin met with the group at its regular meeting on Nov. 22. The overwhelming sentiment among its members was to keep going, formalize a legal structure and remain active on issues of growth management. The main goals were to keep the lines of communication open between the very diverse factions that make up the coalition so they can speak with one voice, and keep a dialogue open with the county commissioners on growth issues.

Angel called upon the Smart Growth Coalition to step up and articulate a clear vision so people know exactly what they’re dealing with, and more specifically, where.

Morgan however, was more pointed in his comments. “I hope we don’t go back to the days of Matt Ryan and waste needless millions of tax dollars on litigation trying to get rid of the Growth Management Act.”

Environmental issues

“I want to be real clear on one fact,” Angel stated emphatically. “Patty and I are committed to preservation of our environment and compliance with the Growth Management Act.” She cited the restoration of Sinclair Inlet and the pair’s support of the project as a prime example of that commitment.

“We’re looking forward to a more balanced approach where the environment and economic development are concerned. We need to bring people closer to the middle. Our environment shouldn’t be a partisan political issue.”
Angel cited telecommunications as an excellent way to achieve that balance. “If we use the Comprehensive Plan to mandate investment in the telecom infrastructure, we can do business and create economic development here without wholesale destruction of the environment. People can work at home. They can telecommute to anywhere, which also takes cars off the road and preserves our quality of life — one of our major selling points.”

Targeting Endresen

Flush from Lent’s victory, Republicans are already targeting Endresen and actively attempting to recruit a top-notch candidate to challenge her. KAPO, and groups such as the HBA heavily supported Scott Henden in the last election. Although he made a respectable showing in 2000, his possible level of support in 2004 is highly debatable. Many local Republicans would prefer a more polished, moderate and less adversarial candidate.
“We need someone who can come in here, kick ass and take names,” joked one prominent Republican who asked not to be identified. “Seriously, though, we need an attractive, moderate candidate, preferably from Bainbridge Island, with a feel for the environment as well as economic development who knows how to sell themself to the voters in the north end.”

Brown would only say recruiting efforts are already underway, but declined to go into specifics.
Endresen also, wouldn’t go into any re-election specifics, saying only, “I’m in the second year of a four year term, so I’m spending my time doing my job, serving the citizens of Kitsap. How well I do my job is the most important thing to me — and to the voters, and that’s what they will judge me on.”

Will they? Morgan believes it probably won’t matter what the Republicans do. “Chris is running from the north end of the county, so she shouldn’t have a big problem. She’s done a good job of representing the desires and needs of her constituents. Besides,” he added with a chuckle, “if any party is galvanized for the 2004 elections, it’s the Democrats.”


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