This year’s election for Grays Harbor Port Commissioner is a perfect reflection of the economic problems facing the entire nation. In spite of continuing claims by many that the economy has made a productive recovery, poll after poll across the country demonstrates that the No. 1 issue for the vast majority of voters is the same as it has been for the past five years — jobs, jobs, jobs. But almost none of the time, effort, money, and gum flapping currently being wasted in Washington, D.C. is aimed at improving the economy. Instead, it is all focused on politically divisive issues that, at best, will not help people meet their monthly expenses.
Certainly, Grays Harbor County is no different. At 11 percent, we currently have the highest unemployment rate in the state, more than 60 percent higher than the state average. You would think that with such double-digit misery, any candidate wishing to be taken seriously would put the local economy on their front burner.
In many years, an election for Port Commissioner would be kind of a yawner. But the fact is that with the decline of timber, agriculture, fishing revenues, our port is one of our most important remaining economic resources. In the last decade, the number of ships bringing business to the Harbor has increased some 750 percent, and the longshoremen jobs alone have increased nearly 400 percent. The Port currently is the largest West Coast exporter of U.S. built cars and soybean meal, and has one of the largest bio-diesel plants in the country. Total employment at the Port is now more than 1,000.
I believe it is no coincidence that such sudden and astounding economic growth occurring in a 100-year old port has happened since Chuck Caldwell became Port Commissioner in 2002. He recognized the value of a deep-water port and helped steer its revitalization into a major shipping center for Washington state and grow employment with all the beneficial ripple effects that more jobs and more revenues bring to all the other local businesses.
This year, Chuck’s opponent is Ron Figlar-Barnes, an environmental activist who is fearful that proposed increases in oil shipments might hurt the environment and who claims that Chuck’s support for such shipping business is “irresponsible.”
Thus, the choice is clear. Grays Harbor needs jobs. So, you can elect Chuck Caldwell and let him continue his “irresponsible” efforts to create jobs and enhance the local economy, or you can elect Mr. Barnes and help kill jobs.