Whitman County Gazette - Serving Whitman County since 1877

By Garth Meyer
Whitman County Gazette 

Kinzer, Handy debate, agree, diverge


October 1, 2020

PULLMAN–Incumbent County Commissioner Dean Kinzer and challenger Tom Handy appeared Sept. 25 in a Northwest Public Broadcasting debate, answering questions and rebutting responses in an hour-long format hosted by Matt Loveless.

The candidates agreed on items such as keeping Snake River dams in place and how the county has handled the coronavirus. Areas which they diverged included the state of Whitcom – the region’s emergency dispatch agency – questions about the county budget/revenue and marijuana.

After Handy ran out of time on his introduction, speaking remotely from a home office setting, Kinzer made his opening.

“I’m a member of a very good team of county commissioners. I don’t want to break up a good team,” he said, speaking from a windowed floor of WSU’s Murrow Center, while listing projects the three commissioners have worked on, since Kinzer and Art Swannack were sworn in in 2013, joining Michael Largent.

He continued.

“I wish I would’ve invested in plexiglass because we’re installing a lot of plexiglass for social distancing,” Kinzer said with a grin.

Questions began and the two candidates expressed agreement for how county health officials, including Kinzer as part of them, managed the pandemic restrictions so far.

The format continued with a question each candidate asked of the other. Handy, the proprietor of Paradise Creek Brewery in Pullman, asked Kinzer what initiatives he personally had brought about regarding the county budget.

Kinzer answered, talking about bringing the county up to two months in restricted reserve funds.

“We started at basically nothing when I was elected,” he said, noting the county reached $2.7 million in the reserve fund earlier this year.

Handy followed with a few comments in his rebuttal.

“I hope that two months, two and a half months is enough,” he said.

For another question, about county small business virus relief, Handy noted that he submitted an application for the funding.

“I can guarantee their help is certainly welcome,” he said.

Revenue development was the next subject.

“Generating new revenue will be the key to getting through this crisis,” said Handy. “We need to look at the number of people coming out of the cities... Working from home is a real good thing... Growing the economy by growing the population of the communities.”

Kinzer talked about the county’s $1 million contribution to the Port of Whitman’s fiber-to-home project.

“So you can run businesses from these towns as well as any place in the world,” said Kinzer.

A question came about the cohesiveness of the three current county commissioners.

“Cohesion can be a good thing and a negative thing, too,” Handy said. “If everyone is going along, and going along, I think we’re not really looking at all the avenues... New ideas (could be brought) to light that may not be visible to the people there now.”

A question followed on the fire recovery plan for Malden and Pine City.

“I don’t have the first-hand knowledge on the issue as Dean does... It’s gonna take the will of the people, in part, to want to re-build...” Handy said. “Malden and Pine City are not big commerce centers, that’s for sure.”

The next question was about the race being “county guy vs. Pullman guy.”

“I’ve never lived in Pullman, it’s always been outside city limits, but one of the biggest problems is a lack of good communication.” said Handy. “There tends to be some mistrust, some territorializing. Sitting down, maybe with somebody new in the mix, we can pull this together. I don’t think it’s a lost cause. A lot of it depends on the leadership of both entities.”

Kinzer gave his answer.

“Being a farmer, I speak that language,” he said, noting that he also serves on the Whitcom board with its broad representatives from the City of Pullman, Moscow and more. “I don’t think I have seen a big problem with that,” he said, referring to the county guy vs. Pullman guy notion.

Handy noted the county’s pride in top national wheat production and a major research university, and made another comment.

“I think Whitcom is a scary situation that really needs attention,” he said.

Time was up and the next question was about removing lower Snake River dams.

“Removing the dams is not an option in my book,” said Kinzer, adding that the “main problem is out in the oceans, being overfishing.”

“I agree with Dean on this,” said Handy. “I’ve always been surprised that they’d even consider it, mostly... We can draw a lot of business here because of cheap, inexpensive power.”

Another question followed, about continuing online/Zoom access to public meetings after the pandemic.

“I don’t think people are gonna go back to the status quo...,” said Handy, talking about meetings he couldn’t get to in person that he can now. “I think it’s a really good thing.”

Kinzer followed.

“I do support having online meetings. It’s quite a paradigm shift for us... It has saved a lot of time and allows more people,” he said. “The previous county commissioners were controversial, and initially we’d have five reporters covering us, and now people say... what do the county commissioners do; we weren’t being covered very well in any way, shape or form.”

Nearing conclusion, the candidates agreed the largest infrastructure need is maintenance of the county’s 1,900 miles of roads and 300 bridges.

The last question was about the marijuana moratorium for which Handy answered first.

“A tricky thing...” Handy said. “I think the moratorium is fine right now... They are legal, why should we discriminate from one farmer over another? We need to figure out the zoning, where we can put them and let them thrive.”

Kinzer pointed out that marijuana is designated a non-ag crop by statute of the state of Washington.

“Let’s face it, the odor of it offends people... No odor can leave the property, they do have the technology for that and a lot of the growers are doing that,” Kinzer said.

Closing statements followed.

“I really enjoy the job I have as county commissioner, I think we’re doing an excellent job for everybody...” said Kinzer, adding that he is “kind of an introvert” and asking people to “please talk to the people I work with” about the job he’s doing.

Handy went last.

“There’s a lot to do in the coming years... I think new approaches must be discovered to solve these problems. It’s sometimes hard to see you’re in a rut when you don’t know you’re in one.”

The Pullman League of Women voters have scheduled a debate Oct. 15 for the commissioner candidates.

In August, Handy prevailed in the primary vote 1,154 to 993. The primary was limited to District Two voters in Pullman and the Colton-Uniontown area.

Kinzer appeared at the Murrow Center because of internet reliability concerns at his farm.


What was Handy’s point about Whitcom?

“They are understaffed, underfunded, it’s kind of like a powder keg,” the challenger said Tuesday while out in St. John putting up signs in the countryside. “They did a great job for the Malden fire, nothing wrong with the people at Whitcom but we need more of them. It’s kind of like not putting tires on an ambulance... Something needs to be done before somebody gets killed.”

What did he think of the forum?

“It was good, I was a little nervous at first, to be honest,” Handy said. “I did a lot of work in broadcasting but I was always on the other side of the camera.”

What is the difference between running a bar and campaigning for office?

“It’s almost the opposite,” Handy said. “If you’re behind a bar, people are coming to you. If you’re campaigning, you’re going to them.”


What did the commissioner think of the forum?

“I thought it was reasonably good. My opponent said he thought the county was doing things quite well,” Kinzer said. “I thought that was somewhat of an endorsement.”

What about Handy’s comment about Whitcom?

“I guess he needs to update his information because Whitcom is pretty stable right now,” said Kinzer, who serves as chairman, a member of the agency’s board since he began as county commissioner.

Whitcom hired a new executive director in July.

“The previous executive director was to bring up a plan for funding and that never occurred,” said Kinzer, noting that Whitcom has tapped into reserve funds.

Is staffing an issue?

“We’re still struggling there. It’s an ongoing issue, finding people with the qualifications to be a dispatcher. From what I’ve heard, all com centers are having the same challenge. It’s a stressful job.”

For the Nov. 3 general election, all county voters may cast ballots for the Kinzer-Handy District Two commissioner’s race.

All three districts include parts of Pullman as well as the more rural sections of the county. Art Swannack is also up for re-election though he is running unopposed.

Author Bio

Garth Meyer, Reporter

Garth Meyer is a reporter and sports writer at the Whitman County Gazette.

Email: [email protected]
Phone: 5092356184
Contact Garth Meyer


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