Kitsap, national candidates in the home stretch of election

26th District House of Representatives candidates, from left, Kim Abel, Jan Angel, Marlyn Jensen and Larry Seaquist spoke at the Retsil Veterans home in October. - Charlie Bermant/Staff Photo
26th District House of Representatives candidates, from left, Kim Abel, Jan Angel, Marlyn Jensen and Larry Seaquist spoke at the Retsil Veterans home in October.
— image credit: Charlie Bermant/Staff Photo

As voters nationally and in Washington select a new president and governor, five local contested races will also shape the direction of Kitsap County and its future development.

“I think people will vote with their pocketbooks in this election,” said Kitsap County Republican Chairman Jack Hamilton. “This means the incumbents are in trouble.”

Most of the buzz centers around whether John McCain or Barack Obama will lead the country. In fact, the results of local contests, such the South Kitsap commissioner race between Charlotte Garrido and Tim Matthes, will have a more direct effect on our day-to-day lives.

Local residents know where a county commissioner works and can approach them directly with a problem or concern. And their decisions will likely influence local lives more than anything McCain or Obama will ever do.

While the positions differ in order of magnitude, local races resemble their national counterparts with the concern about economic issues and cuts of services.

Similarly, local races have echoed the presidential and gubernatorial races with a tendency to “go negative,” attacking the opponent’s qualifications instead of building up their own.

The most contentious race in South Kitsap is between South Kitsap Commissioner Jan Angel and former Port Orchard Mayor Kim Abel to succeed retiring 26th Disrict Rep. Patricia Lantz.

Also generating sparks is the Kitsap County auditor’s race between incumbent Walter E. Washington and challenger John Clark.

Meanwhile, the supposedly nonpartisan contest between Jeanette Dalton and Bruce Danielson to succeed retiring Superior Court Judge Leonard Costello has also been testy at times.

In other years, the judge and auditor’s races are barely noticed, while county commissioner contests can draw blood. This year, however, the Garrido/Matthes face-off has been cordial and issue-oriented. Similarly, Marlyn Jensen’s challenge to incumbent 26th District Rep. Larry Seaquist has lacked any degree of nastiness.

Garrido, who preceded Angel as county commissioner, has worked to erase a negative perception that still lingers from that term. Since leaving office she has earned a doctorate and spearheaded the effort to bring a four year baccalaureate program to Kitsap County. She has earned the support of many people who have worked with her in the past, both within and outside county government, and soundly defeated the perceived frontrunner, Monty Mahan, in the August primary.

Matthes, a retired shipyard worker who has not held public office, nevertheless drew the most votes in that primary.

He is a member of the Port Orchard Planning Commission and the Kitsap Board of Equalization, and is the past president of the Kitsap Alliance for Property Owners (KAPO). He has slowly gained name recognition during his six-month campaign. and promises to be a moderate voice on land use and planning issues.

Two years ago, the Kitsap County commissioners were unique as an all-female board.

This year, they will gain a different homogeneity. It will either be composed of three Democrats, or three white males.

The Angel/Abel race is probably the closest local contest, and the most contentious (see sidebar).

In many aspects the two are evenly matched. They both have local elected experience (although Angel has been in office twice as long) with high name recognition.

They have received high-profile endorsements from their respective parties, and have deep roots in the county (although neither one was born here).

Angel, with a real-estate/business background, has promised to support small businesses and property rights.

Abel has stressed the creation of local jobs.

Realistically, both candidates support small business and job creation, but would follow different paths to get there.

The race has become all about the negatives, with Angel criticized for her knee-jerk support of developers and Abel thrashed for neglecting her responsibilities as Port Orchard mayor.

They have also blamed each other for the recent collapse of the Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority.

Local political observers in both parties predict victory for their candidate, while admitting that the race is “too close to call.” 

Unlike the Angel/Abel battle, punches in the auditor and judge races have already been thrown.

Washington, who was appointed to the office to succeed the retiring Karen Flynn, was thought to be a shoo-in, and a natural choice to keep the office on a steady path.

But Clark, who declared his candidacy during filing week, did not follow that program.

He first challenged Washington’s campaign reporting process, which led to a $300 fine from the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC).

He then challenged the operation of the Auditor’s Office, saying that it should be supervising the budget process rather than the county commissioners.

If Clark wins he promises to restructure the office. If he loses he plans to bring forth a legal challenge that will compel Washington to do so.

Washington has received the backing of the Democratic establishment and local elected officials, while Clark has mobilized the real estate community. No public polls have been conducted, and partisans predict victory for their own candidates.

The judge race is also positioned as a contest between the establishment and an upstart, or experience versus change. Dalton, the former, has earned the support of the legal community, touting her experience as a pro tem judge.

She has also outspent Danielson more than five to one.

Danielson, who is making his second run for the bench, is still largely unknown in the county. Early in the campaign he was the object of two anonymous smears that took decisions and rulings out of context.

These actions may have helped him gain a place in the primary, from voters who resented negative campaigning. (Dalton was the object of a similar anonymous attack on her record last month).

Danielson has earned traction from his refusal to accept contributions from attorneys, saying they represent a conflict of interest. Dalton supporters have scorned this, saying that attorney support is the best indicator of who will be the most effective judge, and that Danielson was not likely to get any campaign contributions from these sources anyway.

The judge’s race is intended to be a non-partisan contest, but these lines have been clearly drawn. Dalton has allied herself with the Democrats, with her fliers and literature available at party events.

Danielson is perceived as the Republican candidate.

The Jensen/Seaquist race has become a traditional Democrat/Republican split, with Seaquist emphasizing social programs and Jensen touting her business experience. Seaquist has become an advocate for improving the ferries, and has gained more influence in the house than most other freshmen representatives, according to house leadership.

Jensen has allied herself with Republican Gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi, and has promised to decrease the tax burden on small businesses.

The candidates have also kept their promise to stick to the issues and avoid personal attacks.

In fact, the Seaquist campaign was approached with damaging personal information about Jensen, which it declined to use in the campaign.

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