MACLEOD PAPPIDAS | THE DAILY WORLD
Wes Cormier walks Cherry Street in Hoquiam, knocking on doors and introducing himself as a county commissioner candidate. He is running against incumbent Terry Willis.
MACLEOD PAPPIDAS | THE DAILY WORLD
County Commissioner candidate Wes Cormier gives an flier to a Hoquiam resident during a door-belling session last week.
County commission candidate Wes Cormier looks over his brochures to make sure he has the right one near Olympic Stadium, rain gear on hand and ready to knock on doors.
As a Hoquiam High School graduate and former Hoquiam wrestling coach, he’s trying to persuade voters to ignore party labels and give him a chance. The area has consistently voted Democratic, Cormier said. But he’s a Republican, who was the local coordinator for the presidential campaign of Ron Paul and believes strongly in anti-tax, small government values. “I’m from this area, I know their issues and I think I can get their support,” Cormier said, pointing out that he’s personalized the door hangers to talk about his Hoquiam roots.
Cormier says he truly believes his aggressive doorbelling gave him the edge over incumbent Terry Willis in the Commission District 1 race during the primary election. Surprising many election observers, Cormier beat Willis with 52.5 percent in the East County-dominated district, where only voters in the district got to vote in the election. That was Willis’ home turf — where she grew up, went to school and owns a farm. Cormier even beat Willis in her home precinct of Melbourne and neighboring precincts of Satsop and Brady.
The election now turns countywide with both candidates changing up their strategies — focusing on ads, mailers and signs, but both say doorbelling remains the best way for them to have one-on-one time with potential voters. Election Day is Nov. 6.
But Cormier isn’t just limiting himself to voters. He’s hitting nearly every home. He could have received lists from the county letting him know who are voters and lists from the Republicans letting him know who is probably leaning Republican or Democrat.
“That’s not the way I’m doing things,” Cormier said. “I figure if I talk to one person and they’re not a voter, maybe they’ll spread the word.”
During the primary, he says, he was encouraged that he may have convinced some non-voters to register to vote for the General Election.
Cormier, 34, is a senior residential appraiser in the Assessor’s Office, where he’s worked since 2005. Before that, he worked as a relief staff member at the Grays Harbor Juvenile Detention Facility for four years. His younger brother still works at the Juvenile Detention Facility.
He’s been a shop steward for the local chapter of the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees union and has been endorsed by his union. He’s also been endorsed by the Master Builders and the Grays Harbor Realtors.
“My skills as an appraiser have given me the knowledge to understand the way the county works,” Cormier said. “I know nearly every county street because I’ve been everywhere doing appraisals. I understanding the way zoning and permits work because we work hand-in-hand with those offices.”
Assessor Rick Hole says he’s staying neutral in the campaign, but he gave Cormier a good job reference, noting Cormier shows up on time to work, helps his colleagues out and shows leadership around the office.
“In general, we have a great professional staff and he’s one of them,” Hole said. “He’s self-directed and motivated.”
Cormier said he had about three cases this year out of dozens that went before the county’s Board of Equalization upon appeal. Hole said that Cormier does a fine job dealing with disputes and answers constituent questions in a professional manner.
“He brings a bit of an entrepreneurial outlook to the job,” Hole said. “He’s able to develop good technical computer skills and able to develop tools that help him do his job in an efficient manner.”
Cormier said that the county’s technology is out of date and says it should be a priority to start replacing computers more. Just last month, Prosecutor Stew Menefee tried emailing out revisions to a controversial jail contract to the mayors of Grays Harbor, but he was using an old Word Perfect format that none of the mayors could open. It created angst among the mayors and just helped inflame the conflict.
Cormier said that issue could have been avoided through technology upgrades, although, he admits, that requires funding that the county probably doesn’t have. Cormier says he doesn’t have a pitch perfect plan to deal with the budget, but he has some starting points.
“I don’t have the luxury of having a budget director sitting next to me like my opponent does,” he says.
He says he would not favor increased taxes and would vote to eliminate the extra property tax burden put on cities through the road levy shift. However, he acknowledges, that will create an extra burden on the county to figure out where to get the extra $750,000 that the road levy shift adds to the operating budget. That likely will mean cuts. He says he favors early retirement incentives. The county tried that a couple years ago, and it did produce some savings, but not immediately because the county had to authorize buyouts of vacation and sick time.
He says he would also support extending mandatory closures of the county, not just for the employees of the County Administration Building, but all employees, suggesting some could take time off on a rotating basis.
Cormier said that the county should also leave vacant the Planning & Building director post until the beginning of next year when a full assessment of the job and the department with a new Board of County Commissioners should be done.
Cormier notes that as soon as he started criticizing the commissioners about their lack of communication on budget issues with the public and their employees, Willis decided to host a meeting to talk budget details with the union employees.
“I attended the meeting and it was great,” Cormier said. “If anything else, it’s moved maybe the commissioners to respond a little bit.”
Cormier said that all three commissioners should have regular meetings with department heads, especially around budget time, saying he disagrees with the current practice of one commissioner meeting with one department head at a time.
As a commissioner, Cormier pledged to attend area City Council meetings, communicate regularly with mayors and host town hall meetings.
Cormier has not attended any of the county commission meetings this year because of his full-time day job. That’s prompted him to pledge to host more evening meetings for the county. In fact, he says campaigning has taken up every hour of his vacation time.
“I’ve had to miss two radio interviews because I just don’t have the vacation time to take off,” he said.
He says he can’t afford to take unpaid time off from his work because his wife, Ambrea, is a stay-at-home mother, raising their two children — 4-year-old Noah and 2-year-old Samuel. His father-in-law lives with them and gets enough money to mainly support himself.
They live in Elma today, but just last year had a three-story house in Aberdeen. That house is now heading toward foreclosure.
A legal notice published in The Vidette by National City Mortgage shows that $16,242 is owed on the house, which had a principal balance of $180,571. They bought the Aberdeen house in 2007.
Cormier said that the family could have afforded to stay in the house, but decided to move to a one-level house in Elma because of his father-in-law’s diabetes and issues he had with getting up and down stairs.
“We’ve been trying to do a short sale on the house since spring time and it’s on the market for $99,000 now but it still hasn’t sold,” Cormier said. “This is a symptom of the market, but, as a family, we had to think of what was best. In today’s market, with homes bought between 2005 and 2008, a lot of homes lost their equity. This is a problem in the area.”
During doorbelling last week, Cormier met Erika Brown of Hoquiam. Brown said that she was working four part-time jobs to get by, getting a few hours here and there, including a new job she had just gotten at Walmart.
“You know, I’ve never had a candidate visit me before,” Brown said. “I always saw it on television, but never thought anyone would knock on my door. … Times are tough for all of us and I appreciated Wes letting me know who he is.”
This is the first story of campaign profiles for county commissioner. Other stories will be forthcoming.