First-term Centralia City Council incumbent Cameron McGee is seeking reelection this year, and he will be met with two challengers during the upcoming August primary.
This year’s primary will take place Tuesday, Aug. 3. The Chronicle is highlighting Lewis County races with two or more candidates in the leadup to the election. The two candidates who get the most votes in each race move on to the general election in November.
Three other seats on the Centralia City Council are also up for reelection this August. The Chronicle has already highlighted candidates running for District No. 2 (Rebecca Staebler, Meta Hogan and Sarah Althauser) and No. 3 (Max Vogt, Rhoda Angove and Kurtis Engle) in previous editions. Those stories are available at chronline.com.
McGee has challengers in Lisa Striedinger, a peer housing case manager, and Chelle Wilder, a six-year Centralia resident and master’s student at The Evergreen State College.
Owner of local business Calypso Window Washington LLC, McGee, 33, is a lifelong Lewis County resident who was first elected into office in 2017.
He’s previously worked with the Centralia Downtown Association, mostly recently with the Pine Street Plaza project, and serves on the Young Professionals of Lewis County board, among other contributions.
McGee served part of his first term during the pandemic, which slowed the city’s momentum on many different projects. He’s hoping to return for a second term to assist the city in its “due diligence” for long-term planning and to continue doing the important work the city council is steeped in.
“There are a lot of these things that I’d like to see finished,” he said. “We’re in the midst of a lot of exciting prospects here as we’re moving forward and as we’re coming back into life here post-pandemic.”
McGee has been busy most recently serving on an ad-hoc council subcommittee that’s examining the impact recently-passed House Bill 1220 will have on the city’s zoning. The bill prohibits city code from excluding construction of emergency shelters and housing, transitional housing and permanent supportive housing within any zone that allows hotels.
“We really dug into it and did our research,” McGee said. “It's a subsect of our community that we really need to make sure we’re taking care of.”
The subcommittee's work lines up with similar discussion the city was having about housing.
The city is also in the process of conducting an in-depth housing inventory study. McGee said work that’s been done so far on the subcommittee between him and fellow Councilors Rebecca Staebler and Kelly Smith Johnston has been collaborative and proactive.
“We’re just focused on getting the meat and potatoes of it together (at the moment),” he said.
McGee, along with his challengers and a majority of candidates running for open seats on the Centralia City Council, say housing is among the city’s most urgent issues.
“We need more inventory, we need to make sure we have housing at all levels, and I think the city housing study is really going to play a big role in that,” McGee said.
Infrastructure will play an important role in how the city addresses the ongoing housing shortage in the future, McGee notes.
“Everybody probably knows someone that’s doubled up, tripled up, or looking for a house,” said Lisa Striedinger, 51. “Housing is the first thing on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.”
For Striedinger, who has lived in Centralia intermittently since 1994, developing sound housing policy is all about having that lived experience. Striedinger claims to have that experience, having been homeless for four months and housing insecure for nearly two years after her mother died. She also dealt with alcohol dependency during that time, according to previous Chronicle reporting.
“That’s kind of what sparked my education and involvement in the community, and into public policy and stuff like that. It was actually a great stepping stone into what I’m doing today,” said Striedinger, who says she’s not a politician but a “people-tician.”
“The lived experience of living homeless is so important, in one aspect of living it but also the aspect of getting out of it,” she said.
Striedinger, who graduated with honors from Centralia College in 2019 with an associate’s degree in chemical dependency, currently works as a Washington state behavioral health counselor and is a peer housing case manager.
In 2018, shortly after finding stable housing, she founded the nonprofit Friends Without Homes, which looks to bridge the gap between homeless individuals and available services. She hasn’t held public office before and this is her first campaign.
As a community member and woman, Striedinger said she doesn’t feel like her voice has been heard on the local political stage. City government and elected officials also haven’t been responsive to her ideas to help solve the area’s housing issues, she said.
The system for finding stable housing works for some, but not all, she said, and it’s been frustrating to continue watching people fall through the cracks.
“I started bringing these issues up, and leaders didn’t want to hear it,” she said.
Striedinger said a priority, if elected, would be to increase the city’s tax base and grow its tax revenue. She said that could come by changing city code and finding ways to lower costs to bring businesses into the area.
She said she agrees with the council's decision earlier this year to not change its building code and parking requirements to allow a new permanent supportive housing structure to be built. Transportation by car, for many low-income individuals, is critical to having a stable job.
“I believe that parking should be available and that we can find ways to make that work,” she said. “Our transportation here isn’t as robust.”
Chelle Wilder, 33, is an Air Force veteran who is currently pursuing her master’s degree in public policy and administration as a full-time student and mother.
"I've always been a big volunteer and that's what led me fully into this field and what got me into public policy ... I really noticed there was a lot of gaps in work to be done, and that's what kind of led me here today. I never thought I'd be running for city council, but I'm really enjoying this," she said.
Wilder has served on the board of the Community Farmers Market in Chehalis. She’s also done work with LGBTQ group Lewis County CARES. She’s been an engaged constituent on matters pertaining to city and county government.
This is her first campaign for public office.
"It definitely takes a village. And I really want to bring more civic engagement to the community, and that's one of the things I like about Lewis County CARES ... I’d like to drum up as much civic engagement as possible," she said.
Wilder said she’d be a logical, educated voice at the table if elected. In 20 years, she said, she’d like to see a more walkable, bikeable city, especially between the Twin Cities.
"I also would love to see some really high-powered infrastructure for internet so people can come in and telecommute for professional jobs," she said. "If we have state of the art internet capabilities, people are going to be drawn here to live here in a rural town."
Housing, she said, is the biggest issue facing the city today.
"We are in a huge housing crisis. That's been going on. We've been at a less than 1% vacancy rate since I've been here," she said. "It's a real issue. I think that, and the economic growth. We can't expect people to afford a quarter-million-dollar home when there aren't wages to afford that quarter-million-dollar home."
Wilder said she believes the city council is on the right track with the work it’s doing on housing. The area, as a whole, she said, needs a wider array of housing availability, since people tend to move through different housing types throughout their life.
"We want to keep everybody here and we want to draw people here, and we have to have housing to do that," she said.
According to Lewis County Auditor’s Office, July 26 is the last day to register or update existing voter registration by mail, online or at a driver’s license office for the upcoming August election. Voters can still register in-person to vote up until 8 p.m. the day of election at the Lewis County Auditor’s Office.
Ballots should begin to arrive in mailboxes for registered voters starting next week. Ballots should be postmarked by Aug. 3 or returned to a ballot drop box by 8 p.m. the day of election.