Candidates answer probing questions at Republican Forum


October 20, 2022

-Chronicle photo

Chuck Amerein

DAYTON-Some 100 interested voters gathered to question candidates at the Columbia County Republican Central Committee (CCRCC)-hosted candidate forum at the Dayton High School Auditorium on October 13.

The candidates were introduced by Moderator Fred White and given time to speak before answering questions from attendees.

Candidate presenters were Jann Manwell for Columbia County Auditor as write-in candidate; Carla Rowe as unopposed Columbia County Treasurer; Joe Helm, incumbent Columbia County Sheriff and challenger Columbia County Deputy Jeff Jenkins; incumbent Columbia County Commissioner for District 3 Charles Amerein and opponent Jack Miller.

Unopposed incumbent District 9 Representative Mary Dye spoke, and Representative incumbent for District 9, Position 2, Joe Schmick, who is also unopposed, was expected to attend but was absent due to illness. He provided a message that was read by White where he shared his experience as a State Representative and his goals for the next session, including intentions to fix the emergency powers act by limiting the current powers held by the Governor, empower law enforcement for safer communities, and return authority to local boards and governing bodies.

The write-in candidate for County Auditor, Jann Manwell explained that an auditor has four responsibilities that are set by statute: finance, recording, licensing, and elections. She said that she possesses a strong work ethic and is dedicated to providing clear and accurate accountability of the finances and election integrity. Through her experience in financial management, she understands dispute resolution and election law. She has been serving as Deputy Auditor for Columbia County for the last year.

County Treasurer Carla Rowe is running unopposed, said the treasurer is responsible for safeguarding the tax dollars, correctly managing the money coming in and out of the County, as well as responsibly managing any debt and diversifying investments. County revenues include money from sales and property taxes and investments.

She spoke about the impact of the Columbia Pulp closure on the County. When it was built, they received a sales tax deferral and with the closure, the County is waiting for it to "play out in the courts" before it will be known how much, if any, sales tax will be received. The property taxes owed to the county will pass on to the purchaser if or when the facility is sold.

County funds are impacted resulting in the Current Expense budget being decreased by $164,000, County Roads decreased by $200,000, the County Library decreased by $40,000, and Fire District 1 by $20,000. She informed attendees that since the windmills were built, the County has lost over $6.8 million in local sales tax revenue by allowing the project to be exempt from paying the tax. She is working to change the exemption to only be for state tax and not for local tax. She advised when voting on taxes, not to vote to exempt local sales tax.

Representative Mary Dye reviewed of her work with energy and the environment with a focus on economically transformative policies and their effect on smaller communities that have less resources. She specified that she is pushing back on the sweeping proposal to close dams and believes efforts are better spend on cleaning up the Puget Sound.

Sheriff Joe Helm is seeking another term and Deputy Jeff Jenkins is running against him with a plan to restore the trust of the people in the department by enforcing policies and the code ethics and to lead by example. He plans to hold the department to a higher standard by answering complaints and by instituting a policy for the chaplaincy program. He said that despite adding three new deputies, three others were taken off the streets, so nothing was gained. He also wants to address the overtime budget.

Helm countered that with the added staff, the department has been able to be more proactive in law enforcement with increased traffic tickets and record cases to the prosecutor's office, as well as freeing up the civil deputies to seek grant funding to provide equipment such as active shooter kits and a side-by-side vehicle at no cost to the County. He added that his office is always open to anyone and encourages people to volunteer and participate in the various community programs and events the department offers or to ride along with the deputies to get to the know them and the job they are doing.

Helm is a professed constitutional sheriff. When someone asked him what that means, he clarified that he believes the constitution applies to everyone and his job is to uphold the United States and Washington Constitutions and laws. He said, "Those laws and protections and the rights that have been inherited by all are protected. Those rights are not given to you by the government. Those are rights you have and those are the things that are protected and as a sheriff, I take that responsibility seriously." Jenkins agreed with Helm but emphasized that he also believes in not violating the Constitution. Helm said there have been no violations in the department that he is aware of, but when there is a complaint, he consults with the county attorney.

Helm discussed the drug problem in the County and how it can be addressed by saying it can be addressed through training all deputies and partnering with the Walla Walla Task Force. With increased staffing, road deputies can now be pulled for needed training and the County can still have coverage. The other issue is the current laws restricting law enforcement from pursuing suspects and making arrests, however sheriffs around the State are uniting to work with representatives to change the laws. Jenkins affirmed that with increased staff, a deputy can be pulled to work with the narcotics task force but that a deputy cannot work the roads and work drugs.

The question as to the rights of the chaplain, Jenkins stated an inmate must request the chaplain and prayer, but if they do not and if there are others around then the chaplain should not impose the service on the inmates. They should only offer the service if they have time. Helm retorted that the department follows the RCWs in place for the chaplaincy program.

Incumbent candidate for County Commissioner District 3 Charles Amerein and opposing candidate Jack Miller Candidates were introduced. Miller said he is running for the position because he was asked to run and has the support of people of various political backgrounds that will enable him to "get things done."

Amerein expressed his appreciation for the forum being the first hosted by the Republican Party. He credited to his legacy as Commissioner the last four years, that more citizens are involved in the political process from both sides of the aisle.

He is a founding member of Columbia County Conservatives that began during his tenure. He is for limiting the emergency powers of the Governor and increasing local authority. He stated that since being in office, he is doing what he thinks is right with thoughtfulness and care and not everyone is going to agree with him. Those supporting one side of an issue are going to agree and the other side will oppose.

Working through the challenges of limited staff, a flood, a pandemic, and a fire, he realizes the County needs better resilience in having back-up plans to keep business going when things go awry. He said when he came into office, he assessed the need for flood mitigation. During his tenure, the Commission attempted a flood control levy twice but each time it was voted down.

The County and City are facing obstacles in removing the sediment dealing with multiple agencies which is pushing them to consider taking the matter in their own hands by removing the rock from the river and use it elsewhere. Miller agreed.

Amerein was asked to address the collection policy at the County Library and the complaints of explicit content in the children's collection, He said the community standards and parental concerns need to be taken into consideration when choosing books and handling requests to relocate the content. Miller said there is a library procedure in place to address the matter and people should see it through. He said the library content is going to offend someone, but that certain things should not be available for some people. He believes that ultimately parents have the responsibility of guiding their children to appropriate materials.

The question "What goals do you have as Commissioner" was asked of both candidates. Miller stated his goals are for the County to spend only what it has and to support economic development. He is in favor of utilizing grants to meet the needs of the County and its growth. Amerein said that he is for limiting taxes and doing more with less. He is in support of the County establishing a Human Resources department. He wants to continue to pursue a law and justice building, and to add staff to departments to cover duties when needed.

It was asked how the candidates as Commissioner can be inclusive of all people, even if they disagree with their philosophies. Amerein said that everyone has differences, and that some requests are not reasonable and responsible. He continued that if people were overly "malleable, I think you would actually have a much poorer society."

Miller stated that one thing that makes the United States great is that we tolerate a variety of political thoughts. He acknowledged that it is not possible to make everyone happy, but he can do what is best for the whole community by using common sense.

An audience question was whether it is right to use the Commissioner's position to threaten withholding funds if they do not fly a flag. Amerein answered by referencing a conversation he had with the director of The Club Jim Pearson when he was requesting County money. He said that as an elected representative of the community, he thought that "if an organization does not feel it's appropriate to fly the flag, I do not feel they need government funds." Miller offered his response. "As an elected official, I would keep my nose out of such things."

Another question was whether the candidates thought the Political Action Committees (Columbia County Conservatives and Neighbors United for Progress) are creating division. Miller said he would like to see them work together. Amerein answered, "I don't think the division was created; I think it was exposed." He added that a PAC is formed because people do not feel heard, and that he is encouraged by people becoming more active in the political process.

The question was asked about the candidate's stance on mandates. Miller thinks that mandates have been needed for the emergencies the country has faced over the last 100 years and cited examples of the drafts and the polio and smallpox vaccines and that the polio vaccine is mandated in many places when travelling. "What else do you do to fight a war or a disease. In this case, it worked," he said.

Amerein argued the draft was issued after war was declared. During the pandemic, the CDC was given authority to require the COVID shot to stay employed after the pharmaceutical companies rushed its development for their own profit which created an ineffective product that actually makes people sick. He went on to say it would have been more effective to close the borders to keep people from coming in, but instead the United States citizens were told what they could and could not do with their lives.

-Chronicle photo

Jack Miller

The last question was why they would be a better a county commissioner than their opponent? Miller answered simply, "It's my turn." But he added that he brings his management experience as a business owner and "can do as good a job as anybody, if not better than most."

"I think the last four years have taught me a lot," Amerein replied. He explained with that knowledge, he can move the County towards the goals of building a law and justice center, collaborating with multiple agencies including behavioral health, aging and long-term care, the Forest Service, as well as meeting the needs of the Sheriff's department, getting money back to the County for sales tax exemptions, and improving the County's resiliency with the budget and staffing.


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