They had an election; voters finally came
March 10, 2006
More than 800 voters nearly overwhelmed the three polling places Tuesday for Clallam Conservation District’s supervisor election.
At the Sequim library, some waited as long as 90 minutes. At the Port of Port Angeles building in Port Angeles, the wait averaged a half-hour.
In contrast, Jefferson County Conservation District Supervisor Lige Christian, who ran unopposed, won reelection March 1, by garnering all 23 votes cast.
Similarly, in 2000 and 2003, a handful of voters reelected Clallam Conservation District Supervisor Steve Marble, who was unopposed.
And in 2005’s all-write-in race, a mere 47 voters—many encouraged by the North Olympic Phone Tree, which focuses on property rights and Second Amendment rights—put Bob Forde on the Clallam district board of supervisors.
Those dismal turnouts inspired two challengers to run against Marble this year.
After a campaign conducted almost entirely over the Internet, Don Hatler easily ousted Marble, 620 votes to 127, while Garret DelaBarre collected 23.
A retired entrepreneur, Hatler represents sport fishermen on the Dungeness River Management Team and is active in the Audubon Society.
Marble is a Realtor and property rights advocate. DelaBarre is a builder. All three live on small rural acreages. Marble owns horses, Hatler raises miniature donkeys, and DelaBarre keeps chickens.
Judging by polling station waiting-line conversations, most folks who voted knew little or nothing about conservation districts.
Then why did they go to the polls?
“One of the candidates is a friend of mine,” the woman in front of me said. “He asked me to come out and vote, and then I got an e-mail about it from the Democratic Party, but they wanted me to vote for someone else.”
Why did it seem the Democratic Party endorsed a candidate in a non-partisan contest?
Actually, they didn’t, claims John Pollock of Sequim, who represents Clallam and Jefferson counties on the Democratic State Committee.
“There were no politics with a big ‘P’ involved in it at all,” Pollock said. “Our central committee does not endorse candidates in non-partisan races.”
Nor does the Republican Party endorse in non-partisan races. The March Clallam County Republican News included a simple announcement of the upcoming election. It noted that Marble, who is the Republican Diamond Point precinct committee officer, was seeking his fourth three-year term, though it did not mention his opponents. (I’m also a precinct officer.)
That announcement paled beside the Hatler get-out-the-vote effort, which corralled fully 77 percent of the votes.
Pollock credited Hatler’s Audubon friends for spreading the word via e-mail, but confirmed that his wife, Marilyn Pollock, president of the Democratic Club, “relayed [the message] to her mailing list.”
Pollock’s name on the e-mail caused many recipients to perceive it as a Democratic Party endorsement of Hatler, but, said John Pollock, “[The election] was not a focus of the Clallam County Democratic Party or the Democratic Club. Neither the club nor the party ever took a position on that.”
The initial anti-Marble, pro-Hatler message originated Feb. 20 with county employee Ed Chadd, a long-time environmental activist.
Chadd prefaced Hatler’s polite, non-accusatory candidacy statement with harsh comments of his own.
“Although the district only works with willing landowners, property-rights advocates have decided that the District provides a good platform from which to grandstand, and have won two seats on the District’s board, taking advantage in each case of low election turnouts. Their paranoid and ideological approach to conservation has hampered the District’s operation, and it’s time for a change,” Chadd wrote.
Chadd told me he followed up later with a second e-mail giving an example to support his charge that Marble and Forde “obstruct the work of the District.”
Last month, Marble opposed accepting a $1 million grant to continue pipelining ditches to conserve water, based on a contractual affirmative action obligation, Chadd said. The majority of the five district supervisors outvoted Marble, and accepted the grant.*
Marble declined comment, saying it would sound like sour grapes. However, he and Forde have consistently lauded the non-regulatory nature of the conservation district, saying it matches their belief government should advise and assist voluntary landowner efforts aimed at wise ecological stewardship of land and natural resources.
Even before the votes were all counted, Marble noted the outstanding turnout and graciously conceded.
“It’s been a good nine years,” he said of his service with the district. “I’m sure Don (Hatler) will do a good job, although his perspective isn’t the same as mine.”
NOTE: After this column was published, Steve Marble informed me that the irrigators later rejected the grant he voted against accepting.
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