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Voters to pick one in Tuesday's primary

By Kevin Hanson, The Courier-Herald

The liveliest race during this primary election season involves three contenders for the District 9 seat on the Metropolitan King County Council, a position that represents Enumclaw and the southeastern portion of the county.

The names are familiar - former state legislator Phil Fortunato, Enumclaw minister and incumbent office-holder Steve Hammond and State Sen. Pam Roach - and each wants to be the Republican who advances to November's general election. The Sept. 16 primary victor will square off against Democrat Barbara Heavey in two months.

On the surface, voters will hear similar stances from all three. Each would agree the trio of candidates share some philosophical beliefs, than each fits into the "conservative Republican" mold.

But they're quick to separate themselves, each giving a convincing argument why voters should select them. Fortunato says it's all about expertise, and he's the one with the environmental background to assure King County does right by its citizens, especially those on the environmentally-sensitive Enumclaw Plateau; Hammond says being on the County Council requires something of a delicate touch and an ability to draw consensus, and maintains he's the one capable of doing that; and Roach maintains she's the only one with the experience (at both the state and county level) to get the job done.

All three have used a shoe-leather campaign strategy, going door-to-door to make their pitch, and voters have seen - and will continue to see - literature in their mailboxes.

Phil Fortunato

"Philosophically, we're all the same," the Kent resident said. "The difference is having knowledge and being able to apply what you know.

As an environmental consultant who gained political savvy during a two-year stint in the state Legislature, Fortunato believes he's prepared to do battle on behalf of county citizens. He takes pride in rattling the cages of politicians and doesn't hide his disdain for much of King County's current leadership.

Fortunato stick with a plank in the conservative platform, that the public pays enough in taxes and isn't getting its money's worth. That's especially true in the rural areas, he points out, which are under-represented on a council dominated by Seattleites.

His professional background as an environmental consultant lends itself to land-use matters, and Fortunato figures the county is going about things backward. For example, he opposes the "surface water management fees" assessed to rural landowners, arguing both the county and landholders would be better off with some minor regulatory changes.

Fortunato directs questions away from issues not directly part of his campaign, but will state his opinion that Hammond is too indebted to the council's Democrats to be an effective representative for District 9.

Steve Hammond

Having sat on the County Council for several months, Hammond believes the importance of personality cannot be overstated. "There's a need for county business to be conducted properly," he said, explaining the need for civility. "It's not like the state Legislature," he said. "It's a full-time job...you're there day after day, week after week."

He agrees the three Republican hopefuls share basic beliefs and readily admits "the most obvious difference is personality. I'm a team player."

But, he said, being termed "affable" doesn't mean he can't stand up for his District 9 constituents. "You can stand your ground without being disagreeable," he said.

Key troubles facing King County include transportation, Hammond said, quickly noting he's a "huge critic" of the present light-rail proposal. "Transportation's a problem for anyone out there trying to use the roads," he said, expressing frustration with the level of government involved in trying to arrive at an adequate solution.

Hammond, prior to being appointed to the County Council, had been a founding member of the Enumclaw-based Property Rights Political Action Committee, and maintains his belief King County is guilty of taking personal property illegally. When the county tells a property owner how land can be used (or not used), that fits the legal description of "taking," he said, stating property owners must be compensated.

Hammond said he's "starting to get comfortable" with his County Council job, bemoaning the fact he was forced to begin campaigning as soon as he was appointed. "I'm looking forward to the opportunity to make a difference," he said, with a hopeful eye to the future.

Pam Roach

"The most important thing is experience," Roach said," citing her 13 years as a member of the state Senate and 16 years working with Pullen, while he served in both the Legislature and on the County Council.

She points to her work in Olympia - particularly with the Child and Family Services, Law and Justice, and the Government Operations and Elections committees - and emphasizes how each has ideally prepared her for life on the council.

Roach is admittedly aggressive, and says that personality trait is essential on the council, which is "one of the most cutthroat political bodies in the state." Explaining her ability to get things done, Roach notes how she helped convince the state to house sex predators in industrial areas (rather than residential neighborhoods) and how she has battled on behalf of Plateau ranchers who were facing large fines for their manure-disposal practices.

Roach has proved something of a political lightning rod, and the latest sparks have come from allegations she doesn't live in the district she's attempting to represent. She counters that with, "I've lived in the Ninth Council District for 26 years, longer than any candidate."

Roach reported Monday night the county elections supervisor had ruled she is, indeed, a district resident. The department could not be reached for confirmation.

Kevin Hanson can be reached at khanson@courierherald.com

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