Incumbent Okanogan County commissioners Andy Hover and Chris Branch both won re-election with strong support. Hover, a Republican representing District 2 (which includes the Methow Valley), got almost 60% of the vote, while his Democratic challenger Katie Haven received 40%. Branch, who stated no party preference and represents District 1 (central Okanogan County), received 56.5% of the vote, while his Republican challenger Shauna Beeman got 43%.
Hover and Branch shared their top priorities for their second terms and how they plan to approach them.
Hover: fiscal responsibility, water issues, fair representation
Fiscally responsible spending of tax dollars is at the top of Hover’s list. “To achieve this, I will continue to use sound budgeting strategies and keep building trust within all the departments in order to budget tight — with an understanding that the unexpected may come up,” he said.
Hover is focused on water issues, particularly in the Methow Valley. He’d like to take a fresh look at the Methow Watershed Plan to see if it needs updating to accommodate future needs, “hopefully giving a little more certainty to our development patterns that everybody can live with,” Hover said.
The county’s economy is also a priority, although Hover said it’s “a little more difficult for a commissioner to create policy that stimulates growth, and to identify what kind of growth we need and want.”
“As always, representing everyone fairly in county government matters will continue to be high on the list,” Hover said. He plans to do “better at communicating how people can get in contact with me so I can better represent their interests.”
Branch: consensus building, COVID, water management
Branch’s top priority is to work on consensus building so that “we can pull ourselves into the 21st century — which includes agreement that the COVID pandemic is a real issue that needs all of our care and attention,” Branch said.
Branch wants to create a 2021 strategic plan to help the commissioners divide work among the commissioners and share and align priorities. The plan would help ensure that they have shared objectives, especially for water availability and management, Branch said.
“We need to be complementary in our work, not competitive,” Branch said. Cooperation and collaboration will be key to finishing the comprehensive plan and addressing many challenging issues, he said.
The county needs to build capacity in the Planning Department to address complex water issues and make regulations fair and efficient, Branch said.
Branch expects to continue his work with the Washington State Association of Counties, particularly with the state Legislature to ensure that counties are economically viable.
Campaigning in unprecedented times
The two incumbents and their challengers reflected on the campaign, which took place in unique circumstances — during a pandemic and a hotly contested presidential race.
Running a campaign in the presidential election cycle leads to greater voter turnout and heightened awareness of issues, Hover said.
COVID-19 presented challenges — but also some opportunities, he said. Candidates typically attend public forums and events to hear people’s viewpoints and learn how a commissioner can best represent them. This year that wasn’t an option. So, Hover turned to social media to answer questions about who he is and the policies he supports.
“The lack of in-person contact definitely changed my strategies for campaigning and, honestly, was less rewarding than actually talking to people face to face,” Hover said. He held a weekly meet-and-greet online and found that people liked it, so he hopes to continue something similar (although not on a weekly basis).
Running for office during a pandemic was a challenge, since Branch prefers meeting people — including his challengers — in candidates’ forums.
“The online forums were certainly a great alternative, but we all know it’s not quite the same as meeting in person and having great discussions afterward, all the way out to the parking lot,” Branch said.
“You don’t really know people until you have heard their story and, once you’ve heard mine, the assumptions about who I am change significantly,” Branch said.
People who know him tended to vote for him, but others probably chose based on political party, Branch said. “Many people know I make decisions based on fact and credible science; however, there are many that follow party lines and many who follow the more popular ideology,” he said.
“I hope to change that … by setting examples for conducting government business in a civil, fair and equitable manner that promotes consensus building,” Branch said.
“COVID really threw a wrench into everything,” Haven said. She spent a lot of time walking around and leaving her campaign literature on doorknobs. That sometimes led to conversations with people who were in their yards or who came out to talk with her.
Having those one-on-one interactions was valuable – a chance to answer voters’ questions and learn what issues were important to them, Haven said. All the conversations were positive and touched on common areas of concern, such as fair wages and good jobs. Many people who said they don’t typically support Democrats said they were glad she was running, Haven said.
Haven plans to remain involved with county issues, but doesn’t know what form that will take.
Every vote and every person in this county matter, and people need to thoroughly research each person and each item they vote for, Beeman said.
She urged people to remain engaged after the election. “Stand up for those things that are important. Hold those you elected to a high level of accountability,” Beeman said. Protecting property and water rights, working on the comprehensive plan and emergency preparedness, and an accessible disaster-relief center “should stop being political talking points and start getting some action,” Beeman said.
Beeman also missed the opportunity to meet face to face with voters. She said she expects to run for another office in the future.
Ann McCreary contributed reporting for this article.