Voters can ask their own questions at the virtual 2020 KP Candidate Forum via Zoom Oct. 13. Email questions in advance to keypencouncil@gmail. com

Meet Some of Your 2020 Election Candidates

Key Peninsula News interviewed candidates for three important local races, asking each: What are your priorities for the KP? What is the No. 1 thing you want to accomplish in office? Why are you qualified to do it? The responses below are the candidates’ own words, edited for length only.

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Pierce County Executive

Incumbent

Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup

If we’re not healthy, nothing else matters. That’s number one, that our entire community including the KP is healthy. We’ve brought testing events into rural areas, at Key Center and Longbranch. We’ve distributed 2 million masks in the county to small businesses and organizations. We need to keep our small businesses going and help them hang on through COVID-19 and the recession. We’ve got loans for both business and personal, rental assistance and mortgage assistance primarily focused on keeping people in their homes. What we don’t want is for the pandemic-induced recession to cause a greater housing collapse.

The biggest factor in why we’re coming down off the July peak; I’d say it’s widespread mask usage. Masks are effective in reducing the spread.

Shifting beyond COVID-19, obviously nothing is more important right now, but we have been making significant investments in behavioral health, an issue throughout the county and the state and one of particular importance to the KP. To characterize my work as county executive, it’s bringing people together to get things done.

We have mobile intervention teams out on the edges of the community supporting high 911 utilizers. We’ve got more co-responders supporting law enforcement in Pierce County than ever before. We finally have a behavioral health hospital up and running or close to it, more than doubling the number of behavioral health hospital beds. We’ve got a veterans clinic to support post-9/11 veterans and their families. From Kitsap County we’ve recruited Coffee Oasis to get our first youth homeless shelter. Later this fall we’ll be opening our second ever crisis recovery center, in Parkland where it was most needed, but we’re keenly aware that there is significant need on the peninsulas and likely our next steps will be there.

On the Key we hear a lot about transportation. We’ve been working hard through Pierce Transit and various funding sources. Fundamentally, I think the systems are pretty broken on how they support Pierce County. We’re looking at federal grants to deliver the next generation of transit. The ultimate dream is connected electric, shared and autonomous. We’re not trying to put in place the transportation system of the last 50 years, we’re thinking of what the next 50 years looks like to lower the costs.

While Seattle and King county are cutting law enforcement officers, in Pierce County we’re not doing that. We saw a strategic opportunity to bring in high quality, highly trained law enforcement personnel from other agencies. That saves basic training and almost a year of training before a new deputy is on the street patrolling. With lateral transfers we can get them out in six to eight weeks. Because of strong financial management we were positioned to take advantage of that. That’s the kind of leadership we have and I hope the voters will say, we like what he’s done and we want him to lead us for another four years.

Challenger

Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor

My priority for the KP, as I know it well after serving its residents for eight years in the state Legislature, is the same as I have for the unincorporated parts of the county in South and East Pierce, and that is to feel that they are being listened to and met with local services.

We’ve got a very large county government with over 3,000 employees and a $3 billion budget, but it’s largely centered in the urban core of the district. My belief is that because we’re going to be living with less revenue, we need to rebuild county government to trim it down and distribute it throughout the county with special attention to the rural unincorporated citizens.

We can build a new government that has the county services distributed through regional offices in an unincorporated community, similar to the KP Community Council office where county health department staff come into the community from time to time. I’d like to see that expand to, for example, the sheriff’s department. The sheriff used to have an office in Purdy staffed with an assistant to answer nonemergency calls and solve problems that didn’t take a deputy’s time.

That’s the heart of my sense here: We need to show that Pierce County can build a new model government that’s got this distributed capability of being in the communities delivering social services, mental health and policing through these regional offices and that people feel like they are consulted.

We had some success with community input through the Land Use Advisory Committees but the county sidelined those LUACs. I thought they were quite valuable.

We know the county budget is in deep trouble and facing an extended recession. Rather than implementing top-down, across the board cuts, we need to go into the community centers to hold meetings –– here’s the budget situation, here are the choices, what do you think? We need to rebuild the county budget from the community up. Huge changes are bound to happen as this economy just grinds away.

I’m running for office because we are facing an incredible negative set of events happening. I’m worried even about our democracy. I cannot sit on the sideline. At the county level, we’ve got an opportunity to show that our country does work. We can rebuild America, one county at a time, starting here in Pierce County. I have the skills with executive, political and strategic planning experience to be useful.

Legislative District 26 State Representative-Position 1

Challenger

Carrie Hesch,D-Gig Harbor

Having lived on the Key Peninsula in Longbranch for eight years, I know how vulnerable Key Peninsula is to fire due to the highway situation for getting out. If there was a major fire, one of the only ways people could get out is by boat. Trying to provide better ingress and egress through transportation is important. I have a master’s degree in infrastructure from the University of Washington and have long been interested in how we provide a second highway into the KP.

I feel like more work needs to be done in Olympia to put pressure and move forward with that. Our highway system is really struggling. I think that folks on the KP deserve better safety measures and transportation infrastructure.

I also feel like living on the KP, we are really disenfranchised. People are often focused on Gig Harbor and not necessarily the KP. We’re out there, but we must not need anything because we’re sustainable, tough and can do it on our own. Well, that’s not true — we have a voice. We have the right to be heard.

We need to have our infrastructure bolstered, a better medical system in place for safety and for people who need preventative care, and for growing homelessness. We can’t see it, but it’s there. People need to be able to find services so that they can find a better means of living safer. For people living out here who are worried about people living on their property, we need to be giving those folks the services they need so they’re not living in tents. This is something that really needs to be addressed.

I work for the Washington State Department of Corrections. I have a background in state service and that networking is in place working with other state agencies and other leaders. Being on the board of directors of Key Peninsula Community Services is another way I’ve done networking through different county, city and state agencies, so building that infrastructure and those connections is very important.

I’ve done several different research projects with the UW where we focused on vulnerable populations and preparing them in the face of crisis. In the City of Bellevue, I was on the research team for Livable City Year 2019-2020, where we provided a research project to prepare that city in the face of climate crisis –– what they needed to do to prepare their communities, their healthcare, their educational systems, their electric grid, etc., for the next 10 years.

Problem-solving isn’t done by the person who goes to Olympia. Problem-solving is done when everybody has a voice at the table. I don’t always have all the answers. I have some really amazing ideas but I like to hear from other people.

Incumbent

Jesse Young, R-Gig Harbor

The Key Peninsula is unique in my mind. Of all the doors I’ve knocked on over the years, you’ve got a unique blend of people there who want to maintain the rural magic out there. People don’t want to see it turn into a big pipeline of traffic going straight down through and then you’ve got people who really want to resolve the Purdy bottleneck. It’s a unique balance.

Since I’ve been in office, they’ve done a number of follow-up studies on the main study done a number of years ago. The effort I’ve worked on is to develop a long-term plan, following my work on the Narrows Bridge to keep tolls from rising, has been to work on a connector route between State Route 16 and State Route 3 that would utilize the Pine Street corridor that we could build through. That does two things, an ability to bypass Purdy and still be able to get down into Key Pen while still honoring the desire of people to maintain that rural touch.

At the same time it will provide a major relief to the Gorst bottleneck that you’re going to have with the massive growth happening in the South Kitsap industrial area. If you look at what’s happening by the airport, and then with the tech companies and Amazon coming in, we need another bypass. That bypass, if done right with enough strategic horizon thinking, will be done in a way that honors the commitment to keep the KP rural while also providing a major infrastructure avenue through there or at least adjacent to it that allows multiple options for people to get on and off the Key Peninsula without getting bottlenecked at Purdy.

I serve and have served on the transportation committee. I am in leadership now and help write the budget and that’s one of the major efforts I’m currently working on.

I am unique for a couple of reasons, in conjunction with Rep. Caldier, in all fairness, but since I’ve been in office we’ve brought massive amounts of money into the 26th district specifically to Key Pen. We’ve done it for environmental reasons and for community reasons, and that’s from the capital budget. We didn’t see that happen before my entrance into office. We saw a lot of people talk, but to bring a lot of funding takes a lot of work and you’re looking at the only person in the Legislature on either side of the aisle that serves on leadership in two budget committees.

I am one of the few IT professionals in the Legislature. If you want someone to deal with and come up with creative solutions to getting rural broadband issues fixed, I’m your guy. I like to think that’s what uniquely qualifies me relative to other people too.

Legislative District 26 State Representative-Position 1

Incumbent

Michelle Caldier, R-Port Orchard

When I first came into the Legislature, I went back to look at capital budget projects and where the funding was going. I noticed KP rarely got capital projects. One of the problems in the 26th is that the other areas, Gig Harbor, Port Orchard and Bremerton, all have paid lobbyists but the KP doesn’t. And if legislators don’t know you have a problem, you’re really not going to get anything.

Key Peninsula tends to try to take care of itself and doesn’t ask for help as much as you should compared to other areas. That was the biggest focus for me: reaching out to different groups and helping to get capital budget projects identified and funded. We got $1.5 million for The Mustard Seed Project, funding for the KP Civic Center and the Longbranch Marina. I want to continue making sure Key Peninsula gets their fair share, so working with some of the nonprofits to help them get through the process is important to me.

One of the reasons I work well across the aisle is that I think it’s OK to argue and still be respectful to people. Some people believe that if you get in people’s face and yell at them that will make them change. A better response is to have well thought-out reasons and be nice to people. 

I’m one of the top Republicans for getting bills passed and amendments accepted because I am respected. In Olympia, you can run bills just to say, “Darn those Democrats,” or you can run bills that are well thought-out.

I think it’s OK to stand up and point out flaws in people’s logic. What works for Seattle or one segment of the population may not work for the entire state. A perfect example is what’s going on with our educational system. The foster kids that I have, most of them really need one-on-one care and on top of that a lot of the foster kids who were reunified at home where there’s been abuse, that could be really bad for that child. That’s one of the ways you can make a difference — by bringing up different perspectives and coming up with solutions.

My number one priority for this next session is turning our state back around and getting through COVID-19. I hear from constituents from every walk of life. The way it affects someone who is 80 is very different from the way it affects someone who is 30, just had a kid, lost his job, can’t get unemployment, but has bills to pay.

With my experience as a dentist, and in nursing homes for 16 years, I’ve got the most education in the Legislature when it comes to health care. I do think some of the problems are the inconsistencies that are put in place. Some things help reduce the spread of the disease, some things don’t. We have to look at COVID-19 as a whole. We’re not going to see the full effects of this for years.

Challenger

Joy Stanford, D-Gig Harbor

For the Key Peninsula, small business is the bread and butter of our community and what people know and love. We need economic recovery and to keep making sure we are helping those small businesses thrive and be healthy economically. That for me is number one for the KP.

Housing and homelessness. It’s my passion. We have got to make sure we have affordable, safe housing and then we can layer in all the other things.

After that it’s probably transportation. How can we bring back options out there, and bring back dollars to create options? That’s my job, to go to Olympia and do that. And that’s for every system. That’s for the public health system, the education system, the transportation system. I don’t feel like we’ve had that for the last six years.

What rises to the top of my list is policy that is inclusive for more people to achieve the greater good. It’s rising to the top; we need those people to rise to the top who may be low wage earners, low income, middle class families. It’s time we make sure we are inclusive with those folks. There’s a lot of working class in the 26th and I want to make sure we are including them in policy, including them in the conversation, and having them at the table to be a part of it.

Internet connectivity is not a luxury, it’s a utility. Those are the champions we need in Olympia, the champions we need locally. We’ve got Derek Young at the Pierce County Council and he is preaching this every chance he gets, saying, “I’ve got people in rural areas who don’t have connectivity. Why?”

What do we need to do? Let’s tear down these barriers, stop talking about it and let’s get it done.

I feel qualified to do this work after the last 20 years of grassroots work I’ve done, working with populations of people who didn’t have access to good health care or health insurance, working with a population now to find safe, affordable housing, starting conversations with groups of people that don’t agree. How do you start that conversation? I can do that.

It’s interesting after the killing of George Floyd how many people called asking me, “What is happening?” and my reply was “This is the conversation we should have been having 20 years ago.”

I love that women, white women, were saying “I need to ask you something.” In the moment, it was so raw for me. As a mother of two black sons, I worry. But it just made my heart so full to be able to have a conversation, to be able to encourage and push people to do what they think is right.