Seven candidates vying for a variety of government offices gathered to discuss drugs, transparency and more. Interested voters and county employees sat and listened to the candidates’ opening and closing statements and asked their questions during a forum at the Orcas Senior Center on Oct. 17. The League of Women Voters hosted the meeting.
Washington state house Representative for District 40
Democrat Debra Lekanoff of Bow and Republican Michael Petrish of Anacortes are running for the two-year term seat currently held by Rep. Kristine Lytton, D-Anacortes. Lytton is retiring at the end of this year. Lekanoff was allotted three minutes to make a statement since Petrish was unable to attend the Orcas forum.
“It’s going to be a great race here in the 40th. I have strong hope that I can pull through this campaign season. … Please, if there’s one thing I can ask of any of you, grab 20 people, if you can, and make sure they get out to vote,” Lekanoff said. “It’s so important for me right now to ask for the vote, so many people are saying, ‘Oh, she’s got this.’ We’ve heard that before, ‘She’s got this,’ and we end up with the situation we’re in today and we don’t want that.”
Endorsed by Lytton, Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Gov. Jay Inslee, Lekanoff has served in governmental services for 20 years.
“I am that person who has the capacity to float from the federal congressional level down to the state, down to the tribal, down to the count, down to the local level, back to your kitchen table to say, ‘Sir, where are we going to stand on income taxes here?’” Lekanoff said.
District court judge
Steve Brandli and Carolyn M. Jewett are competing for San Juan County District Court judge, a nonpartisan position with a four-year term.
Jewett explained that she is passionate about district court. She said it allows an opportunity for meaningful change to those who go in front of a district court judge. When she began her professional career, she worked in King County district court and then moved to San Juan County to work as a deputy prosecutor.
According to Brandli, there are three essential qualities a judge needs to have: experience, compassion and intellectual humility.
Brandli said the first quality is a defining difference between him and Jewett as he has worked as a lawyer for 12 years after graduating from the University of Washington in the top 5 percent of his class. He too said he worked for San Juan County district court – a position he called entry-level – for a couple of years before going into private practice a decade ago.
“For them, it’s not just about law and facts. In fact, court is an emotional experience for the parties that go through it,” Brandli said. “I believe working directly with clients is a valuable experience that a judge should have.”
Finally, a judge must have intellectual humility, according to Brandli. He said a good judge is always striving to understand better. They try to ask the right questions, listen carefully and make decisions after significant consideration.
The first audience question for the judge candidates was about Brandli’s proclaimed intention of continuing to have a private practice outside of working as district court judge.
Brandli explained that the judge position is just .77 full-time equivalent and he will be maintaining a transactional practice consisting of document creation. He said that it will not cause conflicts for the district judge position.
What would cause conflicts, said Brandli, is Jewett’s current court cases to which she’s been assigned through January.
Jewett, however, intends to focus her full-time efforts on the part-time job. She said that though the job is only three-quarters of a full-time position, it is salary, not hourly, and she intends to work it like it’s full time.
As for the conflict, Jewett said she would need to recuse herself from any of the cases that went to court during her first few months but that district court cases conclude quickly, and several of them may settle out of court anyway.
The second question was what the prospective judges thought about judges taking it upon themselves to create law rather than interpret it.
“The legislature’s law is to make the law. The prosecutor’s role is to enforce the role. The judge’s law is to apply and interpret the law,” Jewett said. “A judge’s role is to uphold the law. A judge’s role is to interpret the law faithfully and to try to give it the meaning that the Legislature intended.”
Brandli said that district court is the bottom of the law food chain. He added that judges are paid to interpret the laws as defined in constitutions, statutes and appellate courts.
Brandli said that each person needs a punishment that is customized to the individual. He said it requires knowing the defendant and that he is qualified to make those types of decisions based on his experience working with a variety of clients.
Jewett agreed, saying that a judge has to strive for the best possible solution based on the individual. The advantage of a district court, she said, is that most of the sentences do not involve mandatory jail time, which allows for flexibility.
The candidates also touched on substance abuse. Brandli said that the district court doesn’t deal much with substance abuse-related crime, and Jewett said that when people think of substance abuse, they’re often forgetting alcohol, which is a problem in our county.
“I think we do our best in district court to help people that want to get into treatment get into treatment,” Jewett said. “It’s clear that we, as a community, have to grapple with this. We as a community have to deal with it before it reaches the criminal level.”
In closing, Brandli named his endorsements, including the three district court judges in Whatcom and Island counties and SAFE San Juans. Jewett reiterated that she will treat the part-time position as a full-time job because she loves San Juan County.
San Juan County Sheriff Ronald Krebs is running for re-election against three-time sheriff candidate and current deputy Jeff Asher for the nonpartisan seat with a four-year term. Krebs was elected to the position in 2014.
Asher began by saying he’s worked for the sheriff’s office for 33 years – in dispatch, as a deputy, as a detective and more. He said there is a drug problem here that he has the experience to handle.
“Many of the major operations you’ve seen here in the county – they were me. I was the brainchild behind a lot of these big operations,” Asher said. “There’s people that are bringing these poisons into our community, they have no ties here, other than they’re here to make money. They’re here to make money off our family and our friends that are, unfortunately, addicted to drugs.”
Asher said we need more people out battling this epidemic – a reserve program, community service officers and bringing an explorer program into the schools could make a dent in the issues.
Krebs said that when he ran for office four years ago, he vowed to improve community relations and change the vision of the sheriff’s office and that he feels like they’ve accomplished his goal. He said he’s always available and has worked hard to build strong relationships and transparency.
Krebs agreed that there is a drug problem in the community and that there are still challenges to be tackled. He has budgeted the addition of a K9 unit and an additional detective.
The first question was addressed to Asher on whether he would be able to be an effective team leader given his history of “running the bus” over them.
Asher said he’s never been one to go along with the group, adding he was the whistleblower on Stephen Parker.
Parker, who resigned from the sheriff’s department in December 2016, was found to have had an inappropriate relationship with the victim of a case he was investigating involving Gerald Grellet-Tinner, who was convicted of sexual misconduct with a minor in June 2016. As a result of the relationship, Grellet-Tinner’s case was thrown out and two other sex crime cases received reduced charges.
“I don’t know if you know what it’s like to be a whistleblower and go against everybody you work with and then, once the person is aboard, the person is turned on you,” Asher said. “It takes a lot for a person to stand up and say ‘that’s wrong, that’s just wrong.’”
Krebs was questioned about why on-duty deputies were attending the meeting and not patrolling. Additionally, he was asked why he had no statement in the voter’s guide. He said it was an email error.
“The last four years have been a good four years. Like I said, you look at the people who are here working for you in the community. Look at the people we have. I love my job, I love what I do. I support them, and they support me,” Krebs said. “You have good people working for you; we will be a very effective department. We have great people working now. We have to keep that momentum going, and I look forward to another four years.”
Asher said in closing that four years ago, he and Krebs discussed what should be done about the drug problem, and he assumed Krebs would do something about it, so Asher decided against running for the position himself. Nothing has been done, he said.
“These drugs are spider webbing their way through our community. They’re affecting our family members and making addicts out of people who would not normally be addicts. We want a clean, wholesome environment – that’s what this community is about,” Asher said. “We can’t turn a blind eye to this, it will come and just overwhelm you. We don’t sponsor drug dealers in San Juan County.”
In the final match of the evening, incumbent for the position of prosecuting attorney, Randall Gaylord, faced off against opponent Nicholas Power. Gaylord has been the prosecutor in San Juan County for 24 years.
Power opened by explaining that he has lived in the county for a little more than 10 years with his wife and their two daughters. He runs what he described as a “diverse practice” ranging from “multimillionaires to the indigent.”
“That has allowed me to really see a lot of what goes on in the community and what a lot of problems that we have in the community,” Power said.
There are two areas in which the community needs to be improved, according to Power. That’s drugs and transparency.
Gaylord began by saying that he loves his job and that there is never a dull moment. He said he has the ideas, knowledge and background to act as the county prosecutor.
As one of 10 children, Gaylord said he has learned to share responsibilities and respect others’ decisions. He also questioned Power’s accusation of a lack of transparency.
“What the heck does that mean?” Gaylord asked. “If you want a document from San Juan County, you can get it.”
The first two questions were geared toward Gaylord directly – the first being how many felonies are charged, tried or plea-bargained in the county. The second question was whether neighbors are being called to testify in felony cases – Gaylord said that subpoenas get sent out a month in advance of a trial and if a witness is not contacted that he takes responsibility for that mistake.
“I want to know when this kind of thing happens right away,” Gaylord said. “We take responsibility for those kinds of things, and we correct them so they don’t occur again.”
The third question was why the position is partisan, to which both candidates replied because of state statute, but that neither would let partisanship interfere with their ability to be impartial.
Power’s history of representing people who have sued the county was brought up by an audience member. They questioned whether Power would be able to have a good working relationship with the people whom he’s sued.
“I think that without being able to criticize the government, we really don’t have a democracy,” Power said. Adding that he, himself had never sued any public official. Power later redacted that as he remembered that he sued County Auditor Milene Henley for “violating his constitutional rights.” According to Power their relationship is fine.
Gaylord pointed out that Power has represented people suing elected officials. In 2011, he said, Power began a recall petition for all five San Juan school board members. He brought eight charges against them, all of which were dropped because they were “frivolous,” Gaylord explained. He then represented a Lopez resident in suing Jamie Stephens, which resulted in Power and his co-counsel owing the county $10,000.
Calling Power’s request for transparency “farcical,” the next question was regarding active cases totaling up to $12 million that Power is currently representing against the county.
“This is a fairly common problem that attorneys in almost every part of the public sector face at some point during their careers,” Power said. “There are a set of rules embodied in the rules of professional conduct which dictate what you can do and what you can’t do on the cases that you have.”
He would have to recuse himself, Power explained. Gaylord then used his rebuttal to say that Power’s recusal would cost the county money.
“You have an elected prosecutor — someone who you choose — to defend those cases and that’s what you have today,” Gaylord said. “You will not have that if Mr. Power is elected.”
Gaylord began his career as a lawyer in 1986, then worked for two law firms before moving to Orcas. When he joined the prosecuting attorney’s office there were three lawyers, now there are five.
“When I came on, I was the youngest person in the office, and today I’m the oldest person in the office,” said Gaylord. “But I have a great team of people who are coming up in the ranks underneath me and serve you well.”
Powers said he believes you can find quality attorneys in offices of all sizes and has been a sole practitioner on San Juan since 2013, having worked for a large firm in Illinois before moving to the island.
“I don’t need this job but I want this job. I want this job because I think this county can be run a lot better,” Power said in closing. “You have a chance to elect a highly qualified and fresh set of eyes to go through and look at the county and look at the county practices and do something about these problems which Mr. Gaylord has had 24 years to resolve but which haven’t been resolved.”
Gaylord said he is endorsed by the San Juan County Democrats, Larsen, Ferguson, Ranker, Lytton and Rep. Jeff Morris.
“When I think ahead for the next four years … I see a community that’s safe and feels safe. I see a local government that is responsive to its citizens. I see citizens served by highly qualified, competent attorneys who know this community and who are on top of their professional lives striving for excellence,” Gaylord said. “I see local government that is open to others with diversity and thinking and willing to accept new approaches. I see a local government that is inclusive of other cultures and mindful of immigrants – we’ve had a lot to do with that recently. I see a prosecutor’s office that puts victims and people harmed as a main value and values honesty and the rule of law.”