Close to 500 people attended a fast-paced and sometimes colorful candidates forum hosted by the Concerned Citizens of Clallam County on Monday night, June 28.
All seven candidates running for the two District 24 seats in the state Legislature participated in the forum.
Rep. Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam, also attended the forum and was honored for her 18 years of service in the state Legislature. Kessler is retiring and four men, including two from Sequim, are competing for her seat.
"I've run nine times and I've never seen a turnout this good," Kessler said.
Kessler offered some advice to the candidates and to members of the audience. She warned that during unusual and hard times like these, it is easy for fear and anxiety to turn into anger.
"Just remember to be civil," she said. "Just remember what our parents taught us."
During the five-minute opening statements, the candidates did keep things civil while making their case for office.
Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, is the only incumbent in the race --- seeking re-election to Position 1.
Van De Wege said job creation is his priority and the way to help the state's financial crisis.
He pointed to his work with the Peninsula Plywood mill and the biomass industry and examples of successful job-creating endeavors.
Running against Van De Wege are Republicans Dan Gase, Port Angeles,
and Craig Durgan, Port Ludlow.
Gase said he is running because he is worried about what his three grandsons have to look forward to.
"I have 50 years experience and none of it political," he said.
Gase said it is time to have people in office who aren't career politicians.
Gase said he wants to bring common- sense solutions to the state and make it more business friendly.
In his opening statement Position 1 candidate Craig Durgan, a Republican from Port Ludlow, borrowed a line from Ronald Reagan.
"Are you better off now than you were four years ago?" he asked the audience.
Durgan is pairing up with Position 2 candidate Larry Carter, also a Republican from Port Ludlow. Both have said they will refuse all campaign donations and endorsements.
"We can't be bought," Durgan said.
Carter, originally from Louisiana, opened up with a rousing call to "get out there and celebrate America."
He stressed the importance of turning the state around in the next two years and talked about his 20 years in the Navy.
Steve Tharinger, D-Sequim, talked about his accomplishments over the past 11 years as a Clallam County commissioner during his opening comments for the Position 2 seat.
Tharinger said he and fellow commissioners Mike Chapman and Mike Doherty have worked hard to move past partisan politics and do what's best for the county.
As a legislator, Tharinger said he would focus on developing jobs and making funding available for infrastructure improvements.
Jack Dwyer, a Montesano Democrat, is a chiropractor, school board member and small-business owner running for position two.
During his time on the school board the district has gone from a $5,000 budget deficit to a $250,000 surplus, he said. All that without any layoffs, he said.
Jim McEntire, a Sequim Republican, said he would bring responsibility, authority and accountability to the position-two seat.
"I am a responsible, thoughtful, common-sense conservative," he said.
His priorities in office would be to get the state budget under control, untangle regulations on business and bring forward common-sense environmental regulations.
The fun started when the question was asked: What is the appropriate role of the Department of Ecology?
Carter, who got two minutes to answer, said he's never seen a more "hosed up" group in his life and he'd cut their funding.
After calling them "yahoos," Carter said all the regulations imposed by the Department of Ecology are "designed to take away our rights of what we can do with our property."
Carter said if elected he would "take them down at the knees."
In a 45-second response, Tharinger said the Department of Ecology seems to be everyone's whipping boy but it's really the state Legislature that is in charge of the department.
Tharinger said the department has important responsibilities such as dealing with toxic chemicals and oil spills but they aren't good listeners and don't stress customer service.
"They're great at creating programs but are they effective?" Dwyer asked during his response.
McEntire said they need to stop focusing on the process and start focusing on results.
Gase said the department doesn't have "one speck of accountability" and should be abolished.
Van De Wege said the purpose of the department should be to ensure clean drinking water and respond to oil spills and other hazards.
He conceded the department does cause problems in the 24th District and needs to change its culture.
The candidates also discussed the role of government in private sector job creation, negotiating government employee contracts and what Section 1 of the Washington state Constitution means.
The discussion was cut short as the clock approached 9 p.m. Eight of the 14 prepared questions were asked.
The Concerned Citizens of Clallam County host a meet and greet with the state Supreme Court candidates at its next meeting on July 26.
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Amanda Winters can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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