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Forum: candidates differ over endorsements, CAO, but not much else

By Steve Wehrly, Journal reporter

The show must go on — and it did.

All of the candidates said they "respect the voters" for changing San Juan County's Home Rule Charter to a three-position council, but none seemed thrilled to be in the middle of another election campaign so soon.

In fact, Rick Hughes, one of four candidates who just finished a county council campaign last November, commented that he will have been campaigning for an entire year by the time of the  April "special general election", mandated by the revised charter. Hughes won an open-seat election in November, replacing Richard Fralick, who opted against running for reelection.

Hughes, Lisa Byers and Greg Ayers came from Orcas to tell voters why two of them should move on to the final round in April. Marc Forlenza, Bob Jarman and Lovel Pratt are the three San Juan islanders facing off in the Feb. 12 primary.

All voters in the county will vote for three council members, one each from San Juan, Orcas and Lopez islands, in the general election as well as the primary. (Because only two candidates are competing for the District 3 County Council seat, which comprises Lopez, Shaw and surrounding outer islands, both move on to the general election in April.)

The County Council is the legislative authority of the county, approves the annual county budget, is responsible for county property and funds, provides for county infrastructure, roads and buildings, fixes the amount of county taxes according to law, and serves as the county franchising authority. Each member of the three-person council will be paid an annual salary of $75,000 plus benefits.

The Orcas candidates mounted the stage first, introducing themselves to the sixty or so voters who braved a threat of snow to attend the first of three pre-primary candidate forums Monday evening at the Friday Harbor Middle School, sponsored by the local chapter of League of Women Voters. Other League-sponsored pre-primary forums are on Orcas (Jan 16, 5 p.m., Orcas Senior Center) and Lopez (Jan. 17, 5 p.m., Grace Episcopal Church) later in the week.

Each candidate assured the audience that she or he would represent all islanders if elected, not just his or her island of residence.

All six also assured the crowd that they would strive for "balance" between environmental protection and property rights. Pratt and Byers, however, proved more supportive of the county council-approved critical areas ordinance update, while Forlenza, Ayers and Jarman expressed support for revising the recently passed ordinances.

Jarman thinks the CAO ordinance is "overly burdensome." Hughes and Forlenza, both of whom are on the council, want to wait for the results of a current court case and also expect the legislation to be appealed to the Growth Management Board in Olympia.

Questions about political endorsements and contributions sparked pointed responses. The local Democratic Party has endorsed Pratt and Byers (and Stephens, who is not in a primary contest); Republicans have made no endorsement.

Byers and Pratt welcome their endorsements. Byers thinks endorsements are "appropriate" and Pratt mentioned that her opponents had appeared at local GOP-sponsored campaign events. Forlenza, who lists a number of endorsements on his campaign website, said that he thinks political party endorsements "make a candidate beholden" to the endorser.

Ayers said he did not return the Democratic Party questionnaire and is not seeking endorsements of either party. Hughes said he is "running as a moderate" and not seeking endorsements. Jarman insisted that "I represent everyone no matter what their political beliefs."

All of the candidates are raising money for their respective campaigns, but at this point only Pratt ($12,000) and Byers ($15,000) have raised more than $10,000.

All six candidates say they support economic development and job growth. Ayers, who has been involved in numerous medical device startups, suggests checking into small manufacturing (using under-employed construction workers to make furniture, for example) or agribusiness (growing seeds in a GMO-free environment). Forlenza, as a current councilman, has asked the Economic Development Council to propose a "relocate to beautiful San Jan County" program - including reaching out to some of the many Seattle and California business executives who have retired or spend summers in the islands.

None of the six candidates saw much good in assault rifles or 30-round ammunition clips, but nobody seemed anxious to propose specific gun-control measures for the county.

When Jarman suggested that some people had left the county, and taken jobs with them, because they found the San Juans' laid-back lifestyle just too boring, nods of agreement rippled like a wave through the crowd - and the forum ended with polite applause a few minutes later.

 

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