The Times - Serving Waitsburg, Dayton and the Touchet Valley

By Emma Philbrook
The Times 

Candidates Meet Voters at Waitsburg Forum

Nine candidates running for four offices spoke and answered voter questions


Emma Philbrook

Candidates appearing at last week's forum in Waitsburg posed for photos prior to the event. L to r, back row: Skyler Rude, Skylar Rude, Dan Mildon, Matt Stroe and Mark Crider. Front row: Dave Saulibio, Lisa Brown and Representative Bill Jenkin. Not pictured: Rebecca Francik and Everett Maroon.

WAITSBURG-Last week, on a balmy Wednesday evening, area voters pressed through the propped-open doors of Waitsburg's Town Hall to meet the candidates running for four positions in local, state, and national government. The forum was sponsored by the Waitsburg Commercial Club.

Nine candidates, grouped by the office they sought, were seated at folding tables along one wall as the audience settled into rows of folding chairs. Moderator Jim Davison explained the forum's format to the crowd over the occasional plaintive squeal of an unseen baby – each candidate would get four minutes to introduce themselves and explain why they were running; afterwards, members of the audience could ask questions to the candidates for each of the offices in turn.

"It's good to see that the democratic process is alive and well here in Waitsburg," began the first speaker of the evening, Mark Crider, who is running for Walla Walla County Sheriff. (The current sheriff, John Turner, is not seeking re-election.)

Crider, an Ohio native and former Eagle Scout, went on to recount his qualifications, including time spent as a Navy test pilot and a long career as an FBI special agent. Crider was offered a position with the Sheriff's office in March, and currently serves as the county's Undersheriff.

Another sheriff candidate present was Matthew Stroe, who currently serves as Whitman College's director of security. A lifelong resident of Walla Walla County and parishioner of Waitsburg Christian Church, Stroe worked for the Sheriff's Department as a deputy from 2007 to 2011 and, following an on-the-job injury, as a crime analyst technician until he was hired by Whitman in 2013.

Stroe cited his position at Whitman as a valuable collaborative and team-building experience and stated that he wishes to foster more involvement with the area schools and build better lines of communication with the local government.

"This town, this county, has been a wonderful place for my family," Stroe said.

Candidates for both State Representative positions in the 16th legislative district were present. Republican Bill Jenkin, the 16th's current Position 1 representative and the only incumbent present Wednesday evening, spoke of his experience as a small business owner in Prosser and his desire to help area businesses thrive.

"I hate taxes," he said, "I hate regulation." He also touched on his time in the Washington State Legislature, noting that he currently sits on several committees, including the Business and Financial Services Committee and the state's newly-created Tourism Board. "Our district is all about tourism," said Jenkin.

Jenkin's Democratic opponent, Everett Maroon, was unable to be present in person due to a family medical emergency. He did, however, prepare remarks to be delivered by a campaign aide, noting that the reason for his absence was closely linked with his platform: "I'm running because I want to make healthcare significantly better in our state and especially in our community."

The Walla Walla resident co-chairs the Greater Columbia Accountable Community for Health's opioid advisory board and seeks a "larger-scale revamping of healthcare in our state." However, he noted that infrastructure is also an important concern. "I would love to be the first Democrat to get your vote," the representative quoted Maroon in his statement.

Three candidates are running for the 16th's Position 2. Dan Mildon, a retired mechanical engineer and longtime member of the Kennewick School Board, quoted from the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address as he introduced himself. He stated that he was "willing to sacrifice some of my retirement to ensure that the citizens of Washington enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Mildon is running as a Republican.

Skylar Rude, a member of the Washington State GOP's executive board and former legislative aide to State Senator Maureen Walsh, said that "education is the number-one issue" and voiced his support for career and vocational training. He also called for a reduction in state spending and decried the recent increases in the minimum wage, saying "that's going to be problematic for us" here southeast Washington.

Rebecca Francik, the seat's lone Democratic contender and a 21-year member of the Pasco City Council, also touched on the issue of education. Drawing on her experience as a teacher, she said that she had "firsthand experience in the education system, and I do know how to improve it." She denounced "gridlock, polarization, and politicians that put party above citizens" to the crowd while assuring them that she was "no tax-and-spend Democrat...I've worked hard for every dollar I've ever earned."

Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rogers, the Washington 5th District's member of the U.S. House of Representatives, was unable to attend the event, but the conservative side of the aisle was represented Wednesday evening by Dave Saulibio. A self-identified "Trump Populist Republican," Saulibio said that if elected he "will always give President Trump the benefit of the doubt and the first bite of the apple."

He aims to institute an eight-year term limit for members of Congress, eliminate pensions for retired Congresspeople, and advocate for a balanced budget. He stated that, unlike either of his major-party opponents, he would "have no IOUs" to donors.

Lisa Brown, the Democratic candidate for the 5th District congressional seat, began by expressing her belief that "we need a change in our nation's capital". Noting that she had helped start the state's rainy-day fund, which several state legislature candidates had praised in their speeches, she described herself as an "independent Democrat" and a "problem solver." She stated that her platform includes affordable healthcare, student-loan relief, and protecting earned benefits such as Medicare and Social Security.

Her comments also touched on a recent national controversy: "We can track a package [from the time it leaves the factory] to your door," she said, "but we can't put separated families back together?"

Following the candidates' introductions, members of the audience were given the opportunity to ask questions, many of which centered on nationwide policy debates. All of the candidates running for seats in the state legislature were questioned about their stance on SSB 5444, a bill which would prevent individuals under 21 from obtaining assault weapons.

The Republican candidates were unilaterally opposed on constitutional grounds, while Francik noted the high taxpayer cost of anti-shooter security measures being taken in schools. "If you want to save the taxpayer money," she said, "we're going to have to look at [a measure like] that."

Another question was directed at the sheriff candidates concerning their stances on gun control. Crider, pointing to the legislative candidates, told the questioner that the sheriff's job was to enforce the law and that "these are the people up here you need to talk to about gun control."

"Respectfully," said the questioner, "I asked for your views."

"My view," replied Crider, "is that I'm sworn to uphold the law, and until those laws are changed that's what I'm going to do."

Stroe said that he concurred wholeheartedly with Crider, adding that he aimed to foster collaboration with the area's schools and law enforcement agencies in order to prevent gun crime more effectively.

Brown and Saulibio, the 5th District congressional candidates, were asked for their stances on President Trump's proposed tariffs, which some fear will adversely affect local farmers.

Brown stated that she was opposed to the tariffs and feared their impact on the local economy, noting that "Congress has the ability, constitutionally, to regulate tariffs, and I think they need to stand up and do that."

Saulibio, by contrast, stated that the tariffs were "just posturing" and added that in the long run "the world needs us more than we need the world."

A local issue no less contentious than the national ones was also broached when the state legislature candidates were asked about one area landowner's proposal to open a water-bottling plant on his land. Francik stated that it was a "complex question, because of course people have water rights," noting that she'd talked with local irrigators who had not been concerned and that ultimately she'd "need to have a hydrologist walk me through."

Rude stated that he felt "water is a state resource" but that in the end "the issue comes down to local zoning."

Jenkin, who said he had spoken with the parties involved, expressed a desire to "get more educated on it and I want to see where the state's purview will come into play".

Only Mildon adopted a strong stance on the question, saying that "we need to assure that water that's in the valley is used by people in the valley" instead of being treated like a commodity.

Towards the end of the evening, Sheriff Turner questioned Stroe on his proposal to reestablish the disbanded inter-county drug task force, noting that it was a "state-funded task force" whose funding had been discontinued, and claiming that "there's no interest from the other counties". Turner, who has endorsed Stroe's opponent, Crider, also asked Stroe how he planned "to increase presence in schools beyond what we've already established" with the department's existing walk-and-talk program, which had brought about an "almost daily" level of interaction.

Stroe said that he had been in touch with law enforcement in neighboring counties and that they had expressed interest in reinstating the drug task force, for which he would seek out alternate sources of funding. As for the sheriff's department's presence in the area's schools, he was quick to emphasize that "I'm not saying that the deputies aren't doing their jobs" and stated that his plan was to "continue to build these relationships [in the schools] up...and continue to push that forward."

Crider, who was also asked to respond to Sheriff Turner's question, emphasized the value of the walk-and-talk program for gaining both familiarity with the student body and tactical knowledge of the campus. He also expressed a desire to reinstate the drug task force, although he noted that "the only way we'll ever be able to fund a drug task force is with more deputies."

Both Crider and Stroe suggested partnering with the Walla Walla Police Department to gain access to more resources for the task force.

The forum officially ended at eight o'clock, although several of the candidates took the opportunity to stick around and chat with audience members. Outside the building, stacks of yard signs that had materialized, and the tables in the entrance hall were now weighted down with campaign buttons and glossy fliers.

After thanking the candidates for making the trip to Waitsburg, Davison turned to the crowd with a grin.

"I really think that you need to give yourselves a round of applause for such a civil interaction," he said.


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