The unexpected tragic death of Lewis County commissioner Gary Stamper has left his seat open on the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) for the remaining 14 months of his term.
In all the times I was in the same room with Gary, or walked with him in Skate Creek Park, or attended a meeting on Zoom, I never heard him talk politics. He was conservative about some issues, especially when it came to defending the timber harvest, but he also had heart and cared for people, their businesses, jobs and living conditions.
Gary was a natural mentor, going back to his teaching and coaching days. I believe he relished mentoring his new colleagues on the BOCC, Sean Swope and Lindsey Pollock. He left them too soon, but I’m sure he would say they were ready, and they could now go on without him.
Recently, The Chronicle reported the Lewis County Republicans meeting on the topic of filling the District 3 commissioner position and their briefing to commissioners on the prospective candidates. The six candidates who have placed their names into consideration include former commissioner Lee Grose, Onalaska Fire Commissioner Kevin Emerson, Onalaska Alliance founding member Harry Bhagwandin, Mike Hadaller and precinct committee officers Linda Williams and Frank Corbin.
The main question here is, will the Republican Party and Lewis County commissioners go back to a candidate who has a lot of experience and history, but retired seven years ago, or will they give a new candidate a chance? There is both a case for choosing experience as well as choosing a fresh face.
I believe the benefits of choosing one of the new names mentioned outweighs any benefit from prior experience as a commissioner. Lewis County has made great strides toward open government and in other areas over the last seven years. We turned out two commissioners in last year’s election partly because they represented the old ways.
Commissioners Pollock and Swope may still be finding their way, but they are not wedded to old crony politics or the old ways of 10 years ago. They also now have a very able county manager who does much of the work the commissioners did 10 years ago and gives excellent guidance to them.
Harry Bhagwandin has distinguished himself as a person of discernment, wisdom and good judgement and would be a great pick for commissioner Stamper’s remaining term.
Frank Corbin has served on the Lewis County Citizens Budget Committee and in other roles and has a wealth of government experience. The others mentioned are potentially good candidates also.
Although our two commissioners are new to the job, they have had enough experience under commissioner Stamper’s tenure as chair to spread their wings and fly. They will distinguish themselves by making their own decision and now it’s time for them to welcome a new member to the BOCC and mentor that person. Lewis County needs to move forward and not look back.