Incumbent, three challengers answer variety of questions
By Ann McCreary
Local voters packed the Twisp Valley Grange Monday (July 11) to hear what four Okanogan County Commission candidates had to say about issues ranging from accountability to zoning.
About 250 people attended the candidate forum hosted by the grange to learn more about the four candidates who are running in the primary election for the County Commission District 2 position, which includes the Methow Valley.
The two candidates receiving the highest number of votes in the Aug. 2 primary election will appear on the Nov. 8 general election ballot.
Candidates include incumbent Ray Campbell of Carlton, who has served one four-year term. He is challenged by Andy Hover of Winthrop, Ashley Thrasher of Twisp, and Stan Kvistad of Okanogan. Thrasher states no party preference; the other three candidates state Republican as their party preference.
Candidates were presented four questions in advance of the forum and the audience posed another 11 questions. They were given only a minute to respond to most questions, although they had two minutes at the beginning of the session to describe why they are running for county commissioner.
Reasons for running
Campbell, a rancher, said he wants to be re-elected to continue “my mission … to help provide tools our businesses need to be successful.” He cited efforts to protect agriculture and the “recreation and tourist industry … recognizing the major contribution to our economy.”
He also said he has tried to help “the struggling timber industry” by working to promote timber salvage projects and has worked on public lands issues with state and national county organizations.
“The political climate of the county and the nation is incredibly divisive,” Thrasher said. “I’m running to be a bridge builder.”
Thrasher, a carpenter and former wildland firefighter, said “the present commission has failed to listen to all the people they were elected to represent,” and said she will seek to “start discussion from a point of agreement” on issues facing the county.
She said her career in firefighting has made her accustomed to working and making decisions in stressful environments and provided leadership skills.
Hover, manager of North Valley Lumber, said “growing up in the valley I was able to have a perspective on life … with wide-open spaces, clean air and clean water.”
He said he would draw on his background in agriculture and business to promote a rural lifestyle and manage growth “so our children can live here and have a job and healthy lifestyle that we love whether we stayed here or moved here.”
When it was Kvistad’s turn to explain his reason for running he stood up and said, “We’ve forgotten something,” and called on the audience to stand and join with him in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
Kvistad, who works in road construction, was dressed in a red, white and blue shirt with stars and stripes. He said past democracies have “failed because of greed and corruption.”
He said Okanogan County’s economy “is good in places and bad in places. We need to attract some kind of a … decent company with health and welfare benefits and some kind of retirement plan.”
Land use, health services
Asked how commissioners can assure that they hear the opinions of citizens regarding land use in different areas of the county, Campbell said meetings of the commission are advertised and open to the public “and there is public comment through the process.”
Thrasher advocated for a “strong comprehensive plan” that is not “one-size-fits-all” and facilitates development of plans for specific areas of the county.
“Individuals have the right to do with your property as you see fit as long as it’s not hurting your neighbor,” Kvistad said.
Hover said Okanogan “is an extremely diverse county. People have different opinions about how their communities should look and how commissioners should listen.”
A question on the role of the county’s public health department and what essential services it provides was submitted to the candidates in advance, but clearly puzzled Kvistad, who said he had looked on the Internet to learn more about it.
“I’m not prepared to talk on that — it’s some program we have, evidently,” he said.
Thrasher said the public health budget has repeatedly been cut by county commissioners and she advocated for “stable financial assistance.”
Okanogan County is one of the poorest in the state, Hover said, and the public health department could help address health issues related to poverty, particularly among children and teens.
Campbell said the department is “essential … it diagnoses and investigates health hazards and problems in our communities.”
Federal lands issue
Candidates were asked about their position regarding local control of federal lands, an issue that has been controversial because of the current commissioners’ support for shifting more control to counties.
“County government definitely needs a voice in control of federal land in our county,” said Campbell. He said he wants “to get federal lands back in production and generating revenue.”
“I don’t think the majority of county citizens want county commissioners … worrying about managing Forest Service lands,” Thrasher said. Public lands are valuable economic and environmental assets to the county, she said.
“I’m opposed to the transfer of public lands,” said Hover. He said he would work to increase state and federal payments in lieu of taxes.
Kvistad said federal lands are “public lands for us to use and protect.”
All candidates except Kvistad said they oppose potential future copper mining near Flagg Mountain in Mazama, an issue that has been raised by a proposal to conduct exploratory drilling there.
Hover said it makes no sense to mine “at the head of a tributary you’ve spent millions of dollars to protect for salmon habitat.”
“In our back yard, that’s a tough call,” Kvistad said. “We need to look at their plan … with an open mind. Will it do us good or harm?”
Candidates were also asked what role county commissioners should take regarding gray wolves in Okanogan County.
Campbell, who has joined his fellow county commissioners in the past in advocating for removal of gray wolves from the state’s endangered species list, said his role is to protect the livestock industry “so they [wolves] don’t put us out of business … I recognize wolves are here to stay.”
Thrasher supports continued payments, which are made by the state, to livestock owners who lose animals to wolf depredations, and said it is important to work with ranchers, farmers and the public “on how to live with wolves.”
Hover also said he supports working with ranchers and cattlemen to help them protect their animals from depredation.
Kvistad said it is “up to the state and federal government” to deal with the wolf issue.
“The three S’s [shoot, shovel and shut up] apply when it comes to wolves in my back yard,” Kvistad said.
Primary election ballots will be mailed this week
Ballots for the Aug. 2 primary election will be mailed to registered voters in Okanogan County this week.
If you have not received your ballot by the end of next week, contact the Okanogan County auditor’s office at (509) 422-7240. The office, at 149 Third Ave. N., Okanogan, is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m., and on Election Day from 8 a.m.-8 p.m.
The deadline for in-person registration to vote in the primary is July 25.
Mailed ballots must be postmarked by Aug. 2. Ballot drop boxes are available through Election Day at the Tonasket City Hall/Library Complex, next to the Omak police station, and in the Pateros Mall parking lot.