Julie McDonald Commentary: Responses — and Lack Thereof — Offer Insight Into PUD, Commissioner Races


Like others in Lewis County, I received my Aug. 2 primary ballot as well as the informative local elections guide provided by the auditor’s office that provides biographical information and candidate statements — at least from those who responded.

Great job, Auditor Larry Grove. No wonder you don’t have an opponent in the upcoming election. But even though he and Treasurer Arny Davis are running unopposed, they provided biographical information for the local guide to let voters know more about their elected officials. Unfortunately, Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer and Coroner Warren McLeod didn’t submit information, but it would have been nice to let taxpayers know more about the people whose salaries they’re paying.

I didn’t question the candidates running for the 3rd Congressional District seat held by Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, who showed courage and integrity when she voted to impeach the sore loser behind the egregious Jan. 6 attack on our nation’s capital.

She has my support, and I only hope the pro-Trump Republicans challenging her split the vote, so she sails onto the general election ballot.

This country depends on the peaceful transfer of power, which has happened for more than two centuries, even in 2000, the closest presidential election in recent memory, when Al Gore lost to President George W. Bush by fewer than 600 votes in Florida. That’s far closer than the 2020 election, where former President Donald Trump lost in every state by more than 10,000 votes.

More than 80 judges — including many appointed by Republicans — dismissed the stolen election fantasy touted by Trump and his minions as having no merit, but that hasn’t stopped conspiracy theorists who have put their faith in a self-serving politician (often at the cost of their Christian witness, but that’s another column).

I wanted a bit more information about our local candidates before filling out my ballot, so I emailed those running for Lewis County commissioner in District 3 and Lewis County Public Utility District (PUD) commissioner. I heard back from three of the five people running for county commissioner and two PUD commissioner candidates. I asked about their top goals and the biggest challenges facing our communities as well as economic development, growth, the coronavirus pandemic and the last presidential election. I also asked why people should support them rather than their opponents.

Below are their responses, starting with Lewis County commissioner candidates. Each of those who responded prefers the Republican Party.

County commissioner candidates Jodery (Jody) Goble, Toledo, and Pete D. Krabbe, Randle, didn’t respond to two requests for information. Tim Cournyer, Mossyrock, incumbent PUD commissioner, also didn’t respond to two requests for information.

Harry O. Bhagwandin, Onalaska

“Living in East County often leaves us feeling like we are left out of critical decisions,” said Harry O. Bhagwandin, founding president of the Onalaska Alliance and a member of the Lodging Tax Advisory Committee who worked as a Department of Natural Resources program manager and holds a master’s degree from Evergreen State College.

He said commissioners need to plan for growth to prevent large increases in property taxes, labor shortages, lack of affordable housing and other negative impacts. The county needs an increased police presence and decreased emergency response times. He said commissioners must maintain and strengthen small businesses and family farms, improve wildland fire management on public forest lands to increase local timber jobs and retain timber revenue to support schools and balance flood protection with recovery of fisheries on the Cowlitz and Chehalis rivers.

“The biggest challenge will be engaging leaders in our unincorporated towns to initiate the long-range planning process to deal with the challenges of unmanaged growth while maintaining our rural character and identity,” Bhagwandin said.

As for economic development, while he appreciates Interstate 5 development of warehouse distribution centers and big box anchor stores, he said the county must work with family-owned businesses, including local farmers, to maintain our rural way of life.

Bhagwandin said commissioners need to involve local citizens in the long-range planning.

“This is where I have the most experience out of all the candidates,” he said. “I have strong citizen networks in place to organize and partner with county agencies and city leaders to begin the long-range planning process critically needed to help us manage growth in Lewis County to keep our county rural, our communities livable, and our way of life intact.”

The COVID-19 pandemic strained local businesses, challenged schools, cost lives and pointed out the need for stronger health care, mental health and social services, supply chains and local businesses, he said.

The county also needs to upgrade rural high-speed internet connectivity and build sewer and water infrastructure.

Bhagwandin said he’s seen no evidence to support that the 2020 presidential election was stolen.

“I have been very impressed with the work of our Lewis County elections staff under the very capable leadership of Larry Grove and have 100 percent confidence that he and his staff have the resources and commitment to ensure that our local elections continue to be fair,” he said.

His bigger concern is that the majority of the local electorate doesn’t vote. He encouraged people to do so. They have until Aug. 2 to register to vote at the auditor’s office.

As for the 2024 presidential election, he said, “It would be a great disservice to the Republican Party and the country in general for President Trump to run in 2024. I will not support him.”

Bhagwandin settled in East Lewis County in 1985, living for six years in Morton before moving to his 65-acre farm at Onalaska, where he and his wife raised their four children. He said he has stood up for the rights of property owners and writes grants for local nonprofits to support tourism, agriculture, and family-owned businesses.

“My campaign is focused on being the voice for our rural community and our voice needs to be heard,” he said.


Scott Brummer, Winlock

Scott Brummer, a former state biologist, owner of Genesis Resource Consulting LLC, and lead pastor of God’s Place Ministries, who holds a bachelor’s degree, said he wants “to ensure that county government runs efficiently and continues to improve its service to the public.”

“County government operates in the service of the people and should be responsive to the needs of the citizens,” he said. “My goal will be to solve problems and work hard to ensure that we get the very best from our tax dollars.”

He described managing growth as a top challenge facing the county.

“We need well-planned growth that protects our agriculture and timber ground yet provides opportunity for affordable housing and living wage jobs,” he said. “The significant rise in property values, property taxes and overall inflation are going to be major hurdles for this community. We must work to find local solutions that can mitigate these impacts on families and our seniors.”

He wants industrial growth within the current designated industrial areas and described small businesses as the key to a thriving local economy.

“I would like Lewis County to be a place that encourages small business development and entrepreneurship,” he said.

While we need to grow so children and grandchildren have opportunities to work and live in the community, Brummer said he loves our rural communities and small-town values. Growth must be well planned, he said, “to reduce the impacts on our schools, roads, utilities and other infrastructure.”

The COVID-19 pandemic had a negative effect on everyone, he said, with small businesses, seniors, and schools enduring a great deal of hardship. “It is time to move forward, learn from this experience and make better decisions in the future from what we have learned,” he said.

“The 2020 election is over,” he said, without answering the question about whether he believes it was stolen. “I don’t dwell in the past; I look to the future and believe that good days are ahead for Lewis County.”

He said he supports the presidential candidate who best aligns with his values and beliefs.

“Since no candidates have committed to run, I cannot speculate on who I will be supporting,” he said of the 2024 presidential election. “The candidate that is selected in the nomination process to represent the Republican Party in the general election will have my support.”

Brummer said he’s invested most of his adult life in serving his Lewis County neighbors.

“Through my work as a professional biologist, a farmer and a pastor, I strive to do what is right for the good of our community,” he said. “I believe that I will best represent the values of East Lewis County residents by listening and being engaged. I have the knowledge and experience to bring people together and find solutions to challenging issues.”


Pat Saldaña, Morton

Pat Saldaña, a Morton School Board member and longtime insurance adjuster with a bachelor’s degree in speech communications, said she wants to return civility to the commissioners’ office while ensuring public safety and managing growth.

“We must work together in order for this beautiful county to thrive,” she said. “I want to be part of the decision making when we balance growth and keeping our rural lifestyle.”

She said the county faces issues of aging infrastructure, housing, inflation, growth, and keeping a rural lifestyle. The county needs transportation infrastructure and access to broadband, health care, child care, arts and culture.

“I would like to see stable or growing tradable industries that bring wealth into our communities,” she said. “In order to have this we must have a healthy skilled workforce.”

She said growth must be managed because of its effect on public services such as law and justice, fire and social services.

The COVID-19 pandemic had a huge effect on Lewis County, and particularly in the schools, where state testing data shows a drop in student scores because of disruption of school. “The pandemic highlighted a long-term problem that some of our kids within the community don’t have a stable home life,” she said.

It also affected mental health and small businesses, although federal money has been given to states and trickled down to counties to help.

Saldaña described herself as a leader who will listen to all sides and work together to strengthen local communities and help advocate for citizens within the boundaries of the law.

“I will listen to the citizens that live within my district and fight for them,” she said.

As for whether the 2020 presidential election was stolen and whether she would support Trump if he ran again for president, she described those as national issues that don’t pertain to the job of Lewis County commissioner.

Maybe. However, I believe it goes to the honesty, integrity, and character of people seeking public office, which is why I posed the question.

I received responses from two people seeking election to the PUD commission but not from the incumbent.


Mike Hadaller, Ethel

Mike Hadaller, a Lewis County native, owner of Mike’s Stump Buster LLC, and president of the Mossyrock Organization of Safety and Support working with the fire department and sheriff’s office, described his top goals as restructuring the PUD by evaluating and determining where cuts can combine jobs and upper management can be fine-tuned. He also wants to seek new power sources within the county, develop a low-income seniors’ program, and advance high-speed internet for East Lewis County.

Hadaller described the biggest challenge as developing alternative power to replace what’s lost when TransAlta near Centralia closes.

He said the PUD must restructure checks and balances, find a conservative manager, and look out for the good of the people of Lewis County.

“While the coronavirus was real, we the people have the freedom of choice as to masks and the shots,” he said. “The mandates hurt our county bad and was bad for many businesses. We are not Olympia or Seattle. We are Lewis County and have much more wide open spaces. The governor seems to forget the differences in our situations. The shots that killed people and also made them sterile are nothing more than a population control effort.”

As for the 2020 election, he said, “while there were fraudulent acts, I do believe that our voting system needs a better solution throughout our country. Again, a better checks and balances throughout our great country.” 

He suggested a younger presidential candidate would better serve the Republican Party in 2024.

“I’m not a politician,” Hadaller said. “I am a businessman that is for the people. I am for the best interest of the great citizens of our county. As a lifelong resident of Lewis County, God is first, family is second, and Lewis County is my family.”

He said he’d work with PUD Commissioner Michael Kelly “to make this the best county at an affordable rate.”

“We will get a seniors program in working order,” he said. “We will restructure the PUD to make it a fine-tuned controlled spending establishment.”


Kevin Emerson, Salkum

Kevin Emerson, an independent construction loan inspector, general contractor and real estate developer who has coached basketball, served on the Lewis County Water/Sewer District 2 and Fire Protection District 1.

One of his top goals is stopping dramatic rate increases, which he attributed to overspending, saying the budget increased from $70.3 million in 2015 to $93.8 million in 2022.

“The PUD has been around for almost 90 years, yet nearly one-quarter of its spending has been approved in only the last six years,” Emerson said.

He wants to put seniors first under the PUD’s low-income assistance program instead of providing help on a “first come, first served” basis.

He also said the PUD should pursue ownership of local power generation sources to achieve electrical independence.

“The current business model of the PUD is to rely on a federal agency to provide our power at prices they set for us,” Emerson said. “I would like to see LCPUD in the position of owning the power needed to serve our county. This would give our local government more control over the cost of our power.”

He said the biggest challenge facing the PUD is two-fold: statewide ideological attempts to impose policies that shut down power supply sources — closing coal-fired plants, removing Snake River dams, banning internal combustion engines; and local elected representatives who don’t understand their foundational responsibilities to deter tyranny by higher magistrates (such as state and federal officials).

“I will also ensure that our attorneys are proactive at helping us push back against nonsensical state policies wherever possible,” Emerson said.

As for the COVID-19 pandemic, he said, “It appears that the enemies of our country both foreign and domestic utilized the coronavirus to seize as much control over our lives as possible.”

Regarding the 2020 presidential election, Emerson said, “It is no secret that in county after county across our Great Country significant voter fraud was found.”

He would gladly support President Trump or Ron DeSantis for president in 2024.

As for why voters should pick him, Emerson said the incumbent presided over rate increases and described his other challenger as having no utilities experience. He described himself as “the only candidate with a proven record of actually lowering utility rates.”


Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, may be reached at memoirs@chaptersoflife.com.