Three candidates are vying for the Grays Harbor County Commissioner seat currently held by Randy Ross.
Ross is seeking his second term, while Westport Maritime Museum director John Shaw and Grays Harbor College wrestling coach Kevin Pine are looking to unseat him.
The three-person county commission is divided into geographical districts. They are vying for District 2, which includes the Aberdeen area. In the August primary, only voters in the district will vote, but the two who advance to the General Election will run countywide.
Shaw moved to the state in the 80s, and is a “former boat builder turned museum director.”
“During the last six years having had a chance to be involved from my seat with the museum and on the Aberdeen Museum board I have been a little frustrated with projects and activities I am part of that seemed to run into dead ends at the county,” said Shaw. “I’m also really concerned about overall where Grays Harbor County has found itself, at the end of the line in the state as far as financial success of the community.”
While the economies in neighboring counties and statewide have been on the rise, Grays Harbor has not kept up.
“Everyone around us had economies that performed pretty well and Grays Harbor hasn’t,” said Shaw. “I think some of that has to get laid at how we run this county.”
Shaw also thinks there’s a disconnect between the county, which drives the economic success of the region, and the cities, feeling there needs to be more positive engagement with municipalities and the county to drive economic success.
Shaw has never run for public office and is running with no party preference, feeling party agendas are divisive and not constructive when developing common sense solutions to the issues the county is facing.
The needle exchange in Aberdeen is a topic all the candidates touched on, with Shaw in the camp that it’s necessary for the public health of the county but could be managed better. The current location at the Pearsall Building he feels is the appropriate place for it, and arguments against that location fall flat.
“We ask people with STDs, poverty issues, health issues, to come to the county health office,” so the location is appropriate for the exchange, said Shaw. “I think as part of the county’s overall heath effort some sort of needle exchange program should be viable, but I don’t think it’s being run correctly.”
He believes the county has fallen short of helping with the creation of a low-barrier homeless shelter, which has placed a burden on the Aberdeen city government, which pays for the operation of a tent camp. The city has repeatedly asked the county for help. Shaw’s wife, Dee Anne, is a council member and has pressed the county for funding to help with the tent camp. Ross’ wife, Debbie, is also on the council.
Shaw said the key to a vital Grays Harbor is getting everyone to the table and coming up with common sense solutions to the challenges the county faces.
Shaw has information about his campaign on a Facebook page called Elect John Shaw.
Ross is seeking a second term, because “there is still more to do. There is a lot of learning in your first term. Once you’ve served a term you understand the process a lot more and learn how to become more effective.”
Ross has worked in banking and financial services for more than 40 years. That, coupled with his experience on the board of commissioners, he says, puts him in a good position to help guide the county through the economic burdens brought on by COVID-19 revenue losses.
“I think more than ever we need people with experience, and financial experience, people who know how to read budgets and work with businesses and be responsive to the administrative needs of the county,” said Ross. “One of the reasons I ran before was there was a lot of discourse and disharmony on the commission, and we’ve pretty much dissolved that. We all work together really well. We don’t always have the same viewpoints, but we all respect each other, so I’d like to have another term where that same spirit of cooperation can continue.”
He said the county is looking at a pandemic-caused 30-50% decrease in sales tax revenue, by his estimation. The county has already instituted a hiring freeze, filling only necessary positions at this time, and while there hasn’t been any formal discussions on the commission at this point, “It would not be unexpected to get to the point where there will be some (county employees) furloughs.” While that’s something he is hoping to avoid, furloughs are better than layoffs while the economy gets back on track, he said.
Ross said the county’s CARES Act small business grants are a step in the right direction getting the county’s economy back on track.
“The most important part is getting businesses restarted, and the business grant program is a small drop in the bucket,” he said.
He supports the current needle exchange program.
“The reason we have a syringe exchange is it helps prevent the spread of infectious diseases,” said Ross. “The last thing we want to see is an increase in infectious diseases during the COVID-19 pandemic that puts more stress on our medical facilities.”
He said Grays Harbor Public Health, like most public health entities across the state and nation, runs the exchange based on the best current facts and scientific practices, and keeps the county Board of Health and Commission fully involved in the process.
To learn more about Ross’ campaign, voters can go to his campaign Facebook page, Ross for Commissioner #2.
Pine has never run for public office before, but was encouraged to run for the position by his brother Phillip – recently retired Grays Harbor College wrestling coach – current Position 2 Commissioner Wes Cormier and others.
“We need to get regular citizens involved, not just politicians,” he said. “And if we want things to change, people have to get involved, people who don’t love government, but want to make it smaller.”
Pine is taking over the men’s wrestling coach duties this year for his brother, and will continue to coach the women’s team, which this past season placed third overall in the National Collegiate Wrestling Association’s championships. His dad, Bill Pine, was a county commissioner in the late 80s.
As for the needle exchange in Aberdeen, “I feel it kind of perpetuates the issue” of addiction, he said. “I think if the county were to take a look at it, instead of enabling people to say it’s a drug and alcohol and mental health issue, if we really care about people, let’s get them off drugs” and not provide the tools used to continue the addiction.
He believes addressing the needle exchange program will help with the county’s homelessness issue, saying the exchange is among the many factors that have led to the very visible homeless population in Aberdeen.
“I will take a compassionate and responsible approach to the homeless issue,” he said. “I agree that in tough times people need a hand to get back on their feet, this is why I will work with charities and local nonprofits to accommodate such a demand. Other times, we need to give more encouragement and responsibility to those seeking services.”
Pine said he’s all about fiscal responsibility, job growth and more housing, which go hand-in-hand when it comes to improving the economy of the county.
“The county has increased your property taxes every year for more than a decade but has only kept a bare minimum, 3-month operating budget for emergencies,” he said. “The county does not have a rainy-day fund capable of handling this current economic crisis. My business experience will provide a much needed outside perspective.” Pine is a former teacher at Elma High School and for the last 15 years has run his own small business.
“I believe the county needs to work harder to promote a jobs friendly climate,” he said. “In order to attract businesses large and small, we need more housing. Therefore, our rules, regulations and zoning laws need to be updated and revised to reflect a business-friendly environment. The zoning laws in our county haven’t been changed or revised in more than 30 years.”
Learn more about Pine at his campaign website, www.VoteforPine.com.