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Commissioner race shuffles

The contest to replace resigning North Kitsap Commissioner Chris Endresen was set awry this week as one perceived frontrunner declined to seek the seat, another made a commitment to enter the race and a surprise candidate emerged.

Since Endresen announced her decision April 30, both Sen. Phil Rockefeller, (D-Bainbridge Island) and County Treasurer Barbara Stephenson emerged as first-tier candidates. While Rockefeller decided against running for the seat in order to stay in the legislature, Stephenson indicated she would actively pursue the position.

Additionally, county spokesman Clarence Moriwaki, who began his current job the week before Endresen’s announcement, will join the fray.

“I love this county and I like my current job,” Moriwaki said. “But I will be in a better position to change things as a commissioner.”

Rockefeller announced his decision on Thursday, saying that he wanted to “stay where I am. There is still a lot I can do, and there are excellent opportunities for me to serve the public.” Shortly after Rockefeller’s announcement Stephenson said “I am going to make a run for it. There are a lot of issues facing to the relating to the budget where I have a good understanding.”

Rockefeller, 68, was elected to the State Senate in 2004 after serving in the House of Representatives. He was named 2007 Legislator of the Year by the Washington Conservation Voters. Stephenson, 54, was elected to a second term as treasurer in 2006, at which time she was unopposed. Prior to her election she serves as director of the Kitsap County United Way.

Moriwaki, 51, said that several people encouraged him to run after Endresen announced her decision, He said he was flattered at first but then took the opportunity seriously. He said his policy and party experience sets him above the other candidates.

Stephenson’s abilities to manage budget issues and to win a countywide election work in her favor, as the appointed commissioner will presumably run for a full term in 2008. However, some Democratic Party members have questioned her party loyalty.

“I know who I am and what I am,” she said. “And I believe that I am a good Democrat. Besides, most of the issues the commissioners deal with are nonpartisan.”

Moriwaki, however, claims to have the strongest party credentials, having worked as a Democrat for more than 20 years. During this time he has worked for Gov. Mike Lowrey, President Bill Clinton and Rep. Jay Inslee, for whom he represented Kitsap County for four years.

“Partisan loyalties aren’t really important in this job,” Moriwaki said. ”Streams and parks are not Democrats or Republicans. But party experience will be very important in getting the nomination.”

Currently, Planning Commissioner Tom Nevins and activist Chris Van Dyk are declared candidates. Martha and Mary's Director of Fund Development Robert Gelder and Poulsbo City Councilman Ed Stern are also considering the race.

All applicants will be reviewed by the Democratic Executive Committee, which will announce all candidates on June 4. The candidates will then attempt to win the votes of the approximately 90 precinct officers, who will select three names on June 18.

The remaining county commissioners will select one name from that list, presumably before Endresen’s June 28 resignation date. If they are unable to agree on a name Gov. Chris Gregoire will make a selection from the same list.

If Stephenson is selected the party will need to be repeated in order to fill the vacancy. If Moriwaki is not selected he said he will happily continue in his current position.

Anyone wishing to apply for the position should contact Party Chairman Carl Olsen (360) 698-6833 or kitsapdemocrat@yahoo.com. Membership in the Democratic Party and residence in Commissioner District 1 are the only legal requirements for any candidate.

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