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Hammond enjoying life as fresh face on county council

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The Courier-Herald

Being appointed to one of the most-powerful seats in King County government brings a whirlwind of activity and leaves no time for celebration.

Enumclaw resident Steve Hammond discovered that last week when he was chosen to fill the District 9 post on the Metropolitan King County Council, a seat left vacant with the April death of his friend and longtime councilman Kent Pullen. "You hit the ground running 90 miles per hour," Hammond said Friday during an interview in his downtown Seattle office. As soon as his name was announced June 9 as Pullen's replacement, a council staffer produced a plaque engraved with his name and, just moments later, Hammond was casting his first vote.

"It was a fairly routine matter," Hammond said, explaining that his first council vote was part of a unanimous, 13-0 decision.

Settling into his 12th-floor office - with its view of the Seattle waterfront, Safeco Field and, in the distance, the Olympic Mountains - Hammond took a moment last week to recap the process that landed him in a powerful office. "There was a lot of intensity to it," he said, explaining he was one of 10 candidates who stepped forward following Pullen's death. Each attempted to convince a panel of fellow Republicans he or she was the best candidate for the job. Hammond's only other foray into politics was a 2000 run for the state Legislature, an unsuccessful campaign that turned highly personal.

This was entirely different, as there were 10 candidates instead of just two, all shared certain core beliefs and the voting pool was limited to 60 or so party leaders. Hammond doesn't discount the notion he was selected as much for his personality as his politics. "I offered a measure of open-mindedness and a willingness to disagree without being disagreeable," he said. When Republican Party leaders picked a field of three finalists to fill the council vacancy, Hammond was second, sandwiched between a pair of state lawmakers, Rep. Phil Fortunato and Sen. Pam Roach. There was immediate speculation Hammond would get the nod as the less abrasive of the three.

With only a few days under his belt, Hammond was enjoying the new experience. Part of the process has been letting others get to know him and his views and what they can expect from the newest county councilman. "People are trying to scope out where I'm going to fall in the philosophical spectrum," he said. That, combined with tending to a ton of details, made for "a fun week," he said.

One of the first things Hammond had to weather was a public discussion of his core values, a debate that was played out on newspaper pages and on the talk-radio airwaves. Specifically, debate centered upon his view of a woman's role in society and reiterated many of the same concerns that were raised during his legislative campaign. "You can't be in politics and have thin skin," Hammond said. "There are always going to be those who take their shots."

Hammond said he had anticipated the short-lived debate. "They were trying to go after my faith and my ministry," he said, adding that his work on the council should clear up any preconceived ideas. The new county councilman is a minister by trade, most recently serving as pastor at Cornerstone Bible Church, which he helped found.

One of the things that made the county post desirable, Hammond said, was the ability to make a difference for the average citizen. "County government affects the lives of peopleĀŠfar more than state government," he said. "We're dealing with things that impact people in their front and back yards, close to home," he said, listing land-use regulations as a "close to home" issue. Prior to seeking the council seat, Hammond had been a guiding force in establishing the Enumclaw-based Property Rights PAC, which has a stated goal of preserving private property rights in the face of ever-growing regulations imposed primarily at the county level.

"I always try to remember the impact of legislation on the individualĀŠto put a human face on what we're doing," Hammond said.

Only appointed to the county post last week, the councilman has to immediately turn his attention to campaigning, as a fall election will be held to determine who fills the remaining two year's of Pullen's term. There are strong hints a primary election challenge will come from within the Republican Party. Also, simmering in the background is a suggestion that the county council be whittled from 13 members to nine. That idea, pushed by a group of King County employees, is undergoing legal scrutiny at present.

Asked about shrinking the size of the council, Hammond said he's "always interested in saving the taxpayers' money." That would surely happen, as each councilmember has a personal staff to manage the office, conduct research and work on constituent issues. Hammond inherited four staffers, and he's now in the process of determining if his needs and desires match Pullen's.

He said he has two concerns when it comes to paring down the number on the county council: first, would the money saved actually return to the taxpayers' pockets and, second, could the job of governing King County still get done with fewer people on the council. Personally, he said, "I tend to think it can."

Kevin Hanson can be reached at khanson@courierherald.com

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