Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Thursday, September 07, 2006


From today's Lewiston Tribune:
Jeannine Larkin wants positive county management

Hay resident and Whitman County Commission District 3 candidate Jeannine Hinley Larkin once got a tip from former Commissioner Nora Mae Keifer.

"She said, 'a commissioner's job is to manage the county in a way that makes it so people want to move here,' " recalled Larkin, who will face three other Republican contenders in the Sept. 19 primary. "And I think that's the best way to put it."

Larkin is running against Michael Larget, Harmon Smith and James White for the seat currently held by Les Wigen, who is not running for re-election.

Larkin said the skills she's honed managing several businesses will serve her well on the commission. She's lived in Whitman County for 44 of her 58 years, and when she was away she managed small, medium and large hair salons in New York, Minnesota, Oregon and Idaho.

"Basically what I'm bringing to the table is a background in management," she said, noting that while she comes from a farm family, she is the only nonfarmer in the primary race. "Managing your own farm, that's work. But you have a completely different view on management when it's not your farm. I had to answer to upper management."

In this case, Larkin said she sees the constituents of District 3 as upper management.

And as for the county as a whole, Larkin said it has an attitude problem when it comes to the ever-hot issue of development.

"There are a lot of people out there that have ideas, and instead of just pooh-poohing them and saying 'well, no, that doesn't go with our zoning, that doesn't go with our growth plan,' let's get together and see what we can do," said Larkin, owner of a LaCrosse hair and tanning salon. "It seems to me that there's such a negative attitude."

Part of that attitude adjustment should be a friendlier attitude toward business and residential development that wants to locate in the county, she said. "We make it so difficult to build in Whitman County and the state, or to have a business," she said of what she called over restrictive planning and zoning regulations.

Larkin said regulation is necessary for growth to be organized. But if it goes too far, those with eyes for Whitman County may end up looking elsewhere, she added.

She pointed to retailer Cabela's as an example of a problem she said is statewide. The sporting goods store is planning to build a large outlet somewhere in the Inland Northwest, and recently started leaning toward Post Falls over Liberty Lake. "Idaho was so much more businesses friendly that that's probably the direction they're going to go."

Another more local example is the Palouse Mall, she said. "That could have been in Pullman, but because of all the restrictions, it was (built) in Moscow."

Farming used to be the way of life for Larkin's family. But since the days are gone when farms provided a healthy share of the county's jobs, other businesses will have to fill that void, Larkin said. Solutions are hard to come by, she added, but with human capital abundant on the highly educated Palouse, answers should emerge if only people would work together.

"We've got to look at other ways to bring growth to the county other than agriculture."

One factor in the emerging economic mix is tourism. But Larkin thinks that is a red herring.

"Why would you come to Whitman County for tourism, other than to go to a Cougar game?" she asked. "That's about the only draw we have. We've got to come up with something."

She said a business like Pullman electrical component manufacture Schweitzer Engineering is growing, but the housing market is limiting what it is able to do.

"Affordable housing in Pullman is considered $200,000. Well, a guy that's just starting at Schweitzer or any other job can't afford a $200,000 house." [I can personally vouch for that. It took me 5 years after moving to Pullman and working at SEL to afford a house here.

She suggested the commission could do more to help bolster decaying infrastructure in the county's smaller, shrinking ag towns to make them more attractive places to live and work.

As to past rocky relations between commissioners, Larkin said her district is more rural than the others and she may have to fight for her constituents' interests. But that doesn't mean she isn't able to compromise, she said.

"Maybe this isn't exactly what you want, but let's tweak it a little bit and see if we all can't be happy with it. And maybe you can be happy with something I've proposed."

Age: 58

Occupation: Owner of Jeannine's Hair and Tanning Salon in LaCrosse.

Party: Republican.

Education: Two years at Washington State University; various management training.

Family: Married, three children, two step children and three grandchildren.

Political Experience: none.
I really like Jeannine's business background and her outlook on the housing crisis, rural zoning, and retail growth and development. That's why I voted for her at the Whitman County Republican Convention back in April. Unfortunately, at this point, Jeannine would have to be considered a darkhorse candidate, although I think she would make a fine commissioner.

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