Wes Cormier discovered a passion for politics at an early age watching the news with his father and felt called to public service himself when he began studying history. “Politics is my sport,” said the freshman Grays Harbor County Commissioner.
Cormier describes himself as a “no games kind of guy” who doesn’t “mind calling people out to address the facts” but who is also “pretty laid back.”He presents a natty and confident image to the world. In an interview for this story his checked shirt is crisp, his pants creased, and his shoes highly polished. His goatee is neatly trimmed and the hair on his balding head is clipped short. He confesses he is a little nervous.
A Republican and social conservative who firmly subscribes to the Libertarian ideals of less tax and less government, most of the jobs he has held since graduating from Hoquiam High in 1997 have been in the public sector. He believes he earns every bit of the more than $76,000 annual salary paid to each county commissioner. When he was elected, it gave Republicans a majority on the three-person commission for the first time in many decades.
His philosophy follows the tenets of English philosopher John Locke, who inspired the Founding Fathers: life liberty and property. But he also finds himself agreeing with Commission Chairman Frank Gordon, who is a Democrat, “85 percent of the time”.
Gordon, asked for a comment about Cormier said his fellow freshman commissioner requested that both Gordon and Commissioner Herb Welch not comment to a reporter. He then said Cormier is “someone who is good to work with and he’s become my friend.”
Cormier laments that long ago the area was known for its “millionaires per capita” and now has the highest unemployment in the state. He blames the “radical” environmental movement. If regulation were certain and a free market really existed, timber interests would return. he believes. True to his ardent defense of property rights, Cormier proposes streamlining permitting by raising the square footage requirement for outlying buildings from 200 to 800. Many of these buildings are built anyway, this just helps make the practice legal, he said. The proposal is being considered by the county legal office, he added.
While he believes in less tax, he’s not opposed to local governments receiving funds from the state and federal governments, as long as local recipients have the decision-making authority about how to spend it, he said.
Cormier’s reading list is a who’s who of Libertarian standbys: Ludwig von Mises, Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek and Murray Rothbard. He loves reading history, particularly about the Revolutionary War and founders. He admires the work of the late Pauline Maier who challenged conventional thinking about Thomas Jefferson.
He gets most of his news online and likes The Drudge Report, a generally conservative source. Before county commissioner work consumed his time, he said he liked debating with “people who are smarter than me” in online forums.
A year into his term, Cormier already knows he wants to stand for re-election in 2016. He said he believes in taking stances regardless of their popularity and does not make decisions with an eye on being re-elected.
Earlier this week, Cormier raised the issue of increasing taxes on timber land if timber companies persist in charging money for citizens to access the land for recreation. But he changed his mind within hours, saying it could open the door to unintended taxation on other rural business such as farms that make money from agricultural tourism.
Like the other commissioners, Cormier continues to incur the ire of county Democrats over the selection of the county prosecutor. Even his own dentist criticized him in a letter to The Vidette, he said with good humor.
He supports programs that align with his principles and opposes programs that don’t, even if they provide “value for money,” he said. For instance, he is against the needle exchange program, widely supported by many in the health care community because it reduces the prevalence of disease among drug users . Cormier believes churches should take up the slack of caring for those in need.
Living up to his principles is very important to Cormier. Though some leaders on the Harbor think the commission should be non-partisan, Cormier is very comfortable being partisan. It gives the people a chance to identify what issues a commissioner stands for, he says.
“I know that the character that he exhibited as a coach and an athlete will help him be successful as a commissioner,” Russ Skolrood, who coached him at Hoquiam High and worked with him when Cormier returned as an assistant coach, said in an email. “He will always make thoughtful and intelligent decisions that will come from character and not from external influences.”
Skolrood, who is now a PUD commissioner and does not get to see Cormier as much, adds: “Above all of the traits that Wes possesses the one I most admired in him is that he was a good person.”
Cormier’s high school wrestling speaks to his tenacity. He said he switched from Aberdeen to Hoquiam High his senior year because he had a shot at a scholarship. The bones in his right hand were splintered his “very first match, while I was warming up. My hand healed up enough that I was able to compete at districts, regionals and state,” he said, though hope for the scholarship was as shattered as the bones in his hand.
After attending college briefly, Cormier got a job at the county Juvenile Detention Facility and learned a lot about troubled youth in the region, he said. He did well on a math exam for a job at the county assessor’s office, and was promoted up the ranks to senior appraiser. Working in commercial real estate appealed, but Cormier went for county commissioner instead.
Quality time is spent with his family, many of whom live on the Harbor, although he has six aunts and two uncles on the East Coast. Indeed, Cormier was born in Massachusetts. There his name, which is French Canadian and Acadian, is pronounced Cor-mee-ay. His father is from New Brunswick in Canada, the heart of Acadia, or New France, in America.
Here on the Harbor, where he has lived most of the time since the 5th grade, he answers to Core-meer. He is fine with either pronunciation.
His parents, who both have connections to the Navy, met in Bremerton. They moved from Massachusetts to Quinault to Humptulips to Oregon and back. Now retired, his parents worked in the private sector. His father, who studied at the Portland Culinary Institute, operated restaurants and once won a prize for his recipe for shrimp and crab bisque. His mother managed grocery stores on the Harbor and in Oregon.
All that moving around helped teach him to be willing to go for an elected job that “is by nature temporary.” True to his roots, he hopes to enact a dream to become an entrepreneur one day.
Though they are the sons of private sector parents, he and his two brothers have all gone to work in public sector jobs. The eldest, a former Marine, is now an officer in the Air Force. The youngest now works for the juvenile detention center, where Cormier began his county career. Their sister, second in order, cares for their elderly parents.
Cormier family gatherings still feature two of the three topics deemed taboo at many dinner tables: politics and religion. The Cormiers may not agree on all the details, but they enjoy a reasoned discussion and never take it personally, he says.
Cormier’s Christian beliefs are a big part of who he is and he attends Calvary Chapel in Montesano and Aberdeen from time to time. He and his wife also listen to sermons on the radio and internet. He also likes the no nonsense teachings of Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle.
In his off time, Cormier likes to cook and says he makes a good chicken en mole with peanut butter and chocolate in the mole sauce. His favorite local restaurant is Mazatlan.
Cormier met his wife Ambrea playing league softball. He played first base for one team and she played left center for another. She has a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Washington and is a stay-at-home mom, caring for their two sons and her father in Elma.
Son Noah, 5, was named “after a famous boat builder” in the Bible, he says. His son Samuel James, 3, “was named after Samuel Adams and James Madison.” A third son is expected in late February. “We do not have a name for our third son yet, though my son Noah wants to name the new baby, Noah.”
For fun, he loves to write and is writing a book. He will not divulge for the record any more detail, other than to say it is historical and non-fiction. Suffice to say, if it takes off, Cormier may have a whole new path to explore.
Erin Hart, 360-537-3932, firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @DW_Erin