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Al Smith to run as Democrat for open county commission seat

Wishkah resident Al Smith declared his candidacy for Grays Harbor County commissioner this week, saying he’ll run as a Democrat with hopes of recapturing the seat won by Republican Herb Welch four years ago.

Welch says he won’t run for re-election, citing health issues. The only other candidate to declare her candidacy is Cosmopolis Mayor Vickie Raines, who intends to file as a third-party candidate and says she’ll list on the ballot she prefers the “Nonpartisan Party,” a political affiliation she has created. Candidate filing isn’t until May.

The Republicans have yet to field a candidate to keep the seat. Welch and Republican Wes Cormier hold the majority on the county commission, but work in concert with fellow Commissioner Frank Gordon, who is a Democrat and both elected as their commission chairman.

Smith, 69, owns an alternative energy company that works mainly in repairing and rebuilding boilers to capture discarded oils, as well as installation of solar and thermal panels. He’s done the work for more than 20 years since he left the old Rayonier mill in Hoquiam, a union job he held for 23 years.

Smith grew up in Aberdeen and has lived in the Wishkah Valley for the past 44 years, where he’s served as a volunteer EMT and firefighter for Fire District No. 10. He’s also previously served on the Wishkah Valley School Board.

He notes he was recently appointed to the Grays Harbor Marine Resources Committee to advise the county commissioners on ocean policy.

“I bring a firm belief in open communication and can bring positive changes to the Commissioner’s Office and to Grays Harbor County,” Smith wrote in a campaign statement. “I understand business, environmental issues, and the need for job growth in the county. Public safety is of critical importance to me and I am passionate about protecting our community and environment.”

Last week, Smith sent a certified letter to Assessor Rick Hole asking him to resign. Smith says he knows a county commissioner doesn’t control that office, but believes the current commissioners have done the right thing with proper oversight of the county’s budget when it comes to spending in the Assessor’s Office, which has been under fire by the state Department of Revenue for missing deadlines.

“We all need to be proactive to demand this guy step down from his position,” Smith said. “He has not been following the letter of the law and it’s going to take at least two years, maybe four years or longer, to get that office back in order.”

Smith says he supports Katie Svoboda for prosecutor and says he thinks he “may have been a dissenting vote” when the county commissioners opted to appoint someone else for the vacant prosecutor position. Smith says he has questions for the way the Juvenile Detention Center and the county prison are run, wondering about potential efficiency improvements in both areas. He also pledges to conduct town hall meetings regularly with constituents if he were elected.

Smith says he thinks the county should construct a new courtroom and public safety building for the judges and sheriff. He’s not quite sure how it would be funded yet. Before announcing his candidacy, Smith said he met with Raines and wished her well.

“This is not about Vickie, this is about me and it’s a choice I’ve been thinking of making for three years now,” Smith said.

Smith was last on the ballot in the 2010 primary election, when he ran for PUD commissioner. He came in fourth out of four candidates, finishing with 15.4 percent of the vote. Dave Timmons ultimately won the election.