Best of times for Mayor Vickie Raines

Vickie Lynn Raines has earned praise as mayor of Cosmopolis, as chairwoman of the Chehalis River Basin Flood Authority and as a member of the governor’s Chehalis Basin Work Group.

She is likely to aim for higher office as Grays Harbor County commissioner, sooner rather than later.

The image she projects as a politician is that of a woman in control with an ability to listen, as well as stand up for what she believes is right and who can get tough if she has to — a woman who admittedly likes to lead and to be in control.

Yet, there is also a private person who likes to wear sweats and slippers and spend the night at home with family, otherwise, she could be at a meeting every night of the week. She aims to deftly juggle family and politics.

She likes practical jokes (when she pulls them) and confesses she is not often a laugh-out-loud person. She admits to being a fan of the reality show “Big Brother,” and reads mysteries and Jane Austen novels. She shares a family passion for baseball. She confesses to singing aloud (by herself) to the songs by Miranda Lambert and Alison Krauss.

“In a group, I have no problem belting out a little AC/DC or KISS, but not to worry, you won’t find me doing karaoke anywhere local!” she writes in an email after a recent interview at Lindley Financial Services in Montesano, where she manages the firm.

She dines out with a group of friends once a month at, say, Moxie’s Burger or Bennett’s. They are women with whom she can let her guard down. They used to play Bunco.

“You know, bring a dish, buy a gift … (Then we said) ‘Crap, let’s just go out and eat prime rib.’ ”

The Worst & Best of Times

Raines’s favorite book is “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens. In one sense, her life does resemble that of a Dickens character — overcoming adversity to find success.

Born a “Tar Heel” in North Carolina, she claims she makes a mean batch of biscuits, a hallmark of any child of the South.

She was raised with two siblings in the Marysville area and is about to visit stepfather Tom and mother Sandy Kirby there, where she looks forward to blueberry bread and a return to the Harbor.

She graduated from Marysville Pilchuck High School in 1983 and came here in 1984 to attend Grays Harbor College. She got a well-paying job at the Weyerhaeuser pulp mill and boasts that as a 19-year-old she could lift 50 pounds of hog fuel.

She married a local man, Walter Tronson, at 21, and gave birth to their son, Chase, at 22. They lived in a three-bedroom home in Hoquiam. Tronson died in 1990.

She and Chase, then 3, moved to an apartment in Cosmopolis. She said she got a lot of support from her father, Earl Jones, who had moved to the Wishkah Valley (where he died in 2008).

In 1991, she met Harbor native Jerry Raines Jr., now the executive director of the Housing Authority of Grays Harbor and son of Jerry Sr., who was a long-time mayor of Cosmopolis. They married in 1993 and have two children together. Hunter is a senior and Haley is a freshman at Aberdeen High School. Chase, who now lives in Aberdeen, took the Raines name. All three children know she (and he) will take time off for their important life events such as graduations, concerts and the recent removal of braces from Haley’s teeth.

Raines is a woman who pauses to think before she speaks. “Enduring (the personal tragedy) probably has helped me realize that there is nothing that I can’t overcome.”

Her worst moment as a mayor came when Weyerhaeuser closed the pulp mill in Cosmopolis, the city’s main source of revenue and its largest employer by far.

“There were times when I didn’t think the mill was going to reopen and that was scary,” she says. “We were fortunate that we had a buyer (Cosmo Specialty Fibers) and that they are doing well (and) hiring people.”

The Flood Authority is a notoriously difficult public group to lead, in part because decisions require unanimous decisions by all 12 members. How does she keep her patience?

“One: you can’t take it personal. It’s not personal. Two: I just have to separate myself, because if I went in as if it were my flood authority or my city or my this or my that, you aren’t going to get anywhere,” she said. “One of the things that has kept me grounded, especially being mayor, is that it’s not my city. I have to remember who elected me to that position. I always keep that in the forefront of my mind that I am doing their work, not my work.”

Though her public personna is one of patience, she confesses quite the opposite.

“I am not a very patient person,” she said. “I mean there have been times where I’ve had to stop a discussion or I got frustrated and you can do that respectfully. … Sometime people will get off-task … and you have to bring them back full circle,” she said.

She started in politics by attending parks and recreation meetings in Cosi. In 1999, she became the first woman elected to the Cosmopolis City Council, three days before Haley turned 1. Haley went to meetings so often, she was given her own mini-gavel. Raines is also the first woman appointed and subsequently elected mayor of Cosmopolis. She has never lost an election.

“I prefer to be unopposed,” she joked.

Being mayor of Cosi pays $500 a month, and Raines has worked for Lindley Financial for 19 years. “We have grown together like a family.”

The business allows her time off for politics and she is comfortable enough to put a “fart machine” under her boss’s chair. He laughed so hard, he bought one, too, she says. She admits she “hates it” when her kids pull pranks on her.

Flood Authority & beyond

Appointed to the Flood Authority in March of 2011, it took just a few months until she was asked to be chairwoman.

“Things were very contentious” and “there was a lack of progress … of getting things done.” She told them “my forte is not science … and they said ‘that’s OK, we need someone who can come in and lead,’ and I said, ‘I can do that.’ ” So experts handle the science and she handles the gavel.

“I don’t know whether it was because I was so new I didn’t know what I was getting into, which is partially true, but I have to say we have done very, very well. We’ve made some great strides in the last couple of years.”

The authority just got $28.2 million to spend on projects.

Recently, she overcame an effort to stymie her proposal to shift funding from projects at an early stage of development to those that are shovel-ready.

“It’s going to show the Legislature we aren’t messing around. We’re going to put the money they gave us to work — right away,” she said.

She even took money from a project in Cosmopolis — repairs of the Mill Creek Dam — but she’s certain the money will be replaced.

“It (was) the right thing to do,” she said.

She plans eventually to run for county commissioner in District 3, the seat currently held by Herb Welch, who has been ill lately and whom she praises for his transparency and ability to listen. She is a Democrat, but will not say whether she plans to challenge Welch next year. When she does run, she says, it will be “when it is best for me and my family.”

Her husband, who has been both the son and the husband of a mayor of Cosmopolis, has “always been supportive,” she said.

And her father-in-law, Jerry Raines Sr., “has always been there for me to ask questions or bounce ideas off of, but only when I have asked. He has never pushed his opinions.”

If she does run next year, it may mean leaving her Lindley Financial job. If she is elected, it will also mean resigning as mayor. She is content with that because two out of three goals she set for the city of 1,643 have already been met, and she is sure the third will be. They are to promote the pulp mill, improve downtown Cosmopolis and get the funding back for the Mill Creek Dam.

“There have been many things in my life that have been difficult and challenging and I don’t like to be told ‘no’ without an explanation. That doesn’t mean I am going to press an issue, but I am going to continue to ask questions,” she said. “I think that the best outcome that you can achieve isn’t necessarily winning, as it is to compromise.”

That being said, Raines knows that “not everyone is going to be happy, not everyone is going to agree all the time, but if you can explain why you made the decision you did, and why it’s the best decision to be made, then, how can they argue with you unless they just like to argue?”

Does Raines have ambitions higher than county commissioner? She shakes her head no. With her eldest son soon-to-be 27, her daughter nearly 15 and her youngest on the cusp of turning 18, a different course is more likely.

“Next stop after that would probably be grandma,” she said.