The Pullman League of Women Voters forum at city hall Wednesday night didn't produce much sparring among the Whitman County candidates, but the 60 voters in attendance did get some clear-cut answers to their questions.
The only moment that came close to being tense was when incumbent Republican Auditor Eunice Coker was asked about the six-month administrative leave of county payroll clerk Frank White. [I'll have more on this later. Basically, the Rats are engaging in a political slime campaign not seen in Whitman County in a long time]
"I will eventually be judge and jury on it, but it's a private issue right now," Coker said.
Last week the Whitman County Democrats, including her challenger Nathan Horter, said Coker, 50, may be drawing out her investigation until after the Nov. 7 election, according to the Whitman County Gazette. Coker has denied that claim, and said White's health is a factor in the length of her investigation.
Beyond that, she said privacy laws prohibit her from addressing the case's specifics. "Right now it's not something we can discuss."
Horter, 24, said that while he trusted Coker is doing a proper investigation, he wondered about its length.
"It's been six months," he said. "Any investigation should be conducted in a timely manner."
When questioned about their experience in finance, both Coker and Horter said they don't have specific training in accounting. But Horter said that as a former product tester for Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories in Pullman, he had the managerial experience to run the diverse functions of the office. [What BS! Horter's position was low level. If that qualifies him for Auditor, I'm qualified to be President of the United States! I also resent him throwing around the SEL name for political advantage, especially as he hasn't worker there in six months and was only there a short time to begin with]
Coker pointed to her 18 years of on-the-job training in the auditor's office and other county departments as the best kind of education.
Horter said he would reach out to state and federal agencies for grant money to fund the additional employees he thinks the office needs. Coker said the reality is the county is having to lay off workers, and she had to recently beg the county commission for another employee in the licensing department. "You have to deal with your department within the budget they give you."
County Commission District 3 candidates Nathan Weller, a Pullman Democrat, and Michael Largent, a Colfax Republican, complimented each other and even hugged after their question-and-answer session.
But Largent, 47, said his experience puts him in a class apart from his young opponent Weller, 24. He touted his two terms as a legislative assistant to former state Sen. Larry Sheehan as crucial experience in the nuts and bolts of governing and compromise.
Weller countered he will bring fresh ideas and a diversity of opinion to a county that puts Republicans in office election after election. So is Weller voting for Mike McGavick, using the same logic?
On the issue of economic development, Largent hailed the coming of the Hawkins development on the Moscow-Pullman Highway near the state line as a welcome asset for consumers and the county's tax base. Weller said that "without growth, there is no revenue for us," but "we don't want strip malls." [Ah yes, young Weller cannot annoy his core constituency]
Based around a Lowe's building center, the Hawkins development will include several islands of smaller retail spaces. Weller said he is in favor of that particular development, however. [What? "We don't want strip malls, but a strip mall that is twice as big as the Palouse Mall, I'm in favor of that" Weller has learned to talk out of both sides of his mouth at once. He really is a Democrat!]
The commission candidates were also asked about a crest ordinance in proposed revisions to the county's zoning code. Weller said affordable housing is key to attracting economic development to the rural areas of the county, and the ordinance -- which would put limits on building on ridge tops and other promontories -- is overly restrictive. "And restricting housing merely restricts growth."
Largent said he is a strong advocate of private property rights, but that a balance between aesthetic beauty and open development must be struck.