The two candidates for the Walla Walla County commissioner District 1 seat are Jared Frerichs and Jim Johnson. Here are profiles of the two candidates:

Jared Frerichs offers ‘bold ideas’

Jared Frerichs believes Walla Walla County can become “a shining city on the hill” and that he can help make that happen.

The Democratic candidate for Walla Walla County Commissioner District 1, Frerichs is hoping to unseat incumbent Commissioner Jim Johnson, who is running as a Republican. It is Frerichs first try at elected office.

A U.S. Coast Guard veteran who joined the service at 18, Frerichs is now working for the Department of Corrections, teaching life skills to offenders at Washington State Penitentiary. If elected, Frerichs said he would quit his DOC job to serve fulltime as a county commissioner.

“There’s this shining city on a hill that Walla Walla can become,” but problems must be overcome first, Frerichs said in a recent interview. Among these are a lack of social services, the need for more jobs and dealing with the county’s infrastructure needs, such as finding a new building to house the 911 center.

“I have bold ideas,” he said. “It’s not that Jim (Johnson) has done a bad job, but I want to bring a new perspective and new ideas to the commission.”

Some of those ideas include working with the public and private entities on the possible development of a natural gas refinery in the Burbank area. Another is increasing outdoor recreation opportunities, in particular creation of a community shooting range that could host competitions for enthusiasts as well as serve as a training facility for local and state law enforcement.

Both Frerichs and Johnson agreed that the county needs to expand mental health services, but Frerichs said an additional need is for creation of a detox center. This need is highlighted by the approximately 114,000 needles for intravenous drug users that are exchanged annually in the county, he said. In earlier statements, Frerichs has also said that in regards to mental health funding, the county needs to ensure taxpayers are “getting quality services from the private providers we have hired.”

When asked about what role county commissioners play in dealing with other elected officials, Frerichs said he saw them as CEOs or “captains of the ship.”

“It’s up to the county commissioners to figure out how to play within the state, federal and local rules” to maintain county government, he said, adding that constant communication is one key. “There will be disputes, but there is a right answer and if the other person has it, you have to acknowledge it.”

Frerichs said he agrees with Sheriff John Turner’s call for increased resources to form an anti-gang squad in the Sheriff’s Office. He also said there is a need to fund school resource officers who would be able to reach out to school students, who are at the highest risk of being recruited into gangs. “You focus money and people on the highest risk issues,” he said.

When asked how he would differentiate himself from Johnson, Frerichs said, with respect, that Johnson “is at the end of his career, this is his last term. All of our county officers are at that (retirement) age and we’re going to lose that experience. I believe Walla Walla County is on the precipice of change, and I want to be present during that transition.”

In response to a question from Johnson about the support he is receiving from labor organizations, Frerichs acknowledged that the Teamsters union has endorsed him “and these have been local folks. They believe I would make a good candidate.”

Frerichs said that because he has been a union member he understands the collective bargaining process and the perspective of unions, such as the sheriff’s deputies union, and that he would be a good negotiator.

“I can communicate with people like that, I understand their background,” he said.

Jim Johnson seeks a capstone term

Jim Johnson wants to “finish the un-finishables.”

The incumbent candidate for the Walla Walla County Commissioner District 1 seat, Johnson is running as a Republican against Democratic contender Jared Frerichs. If re-elected, it would be Johnson’s second full term as a commissioner.

Johnson was appointed in 2012 by the Walla Walla County Republican Party to fill the vacancy when then-Commissioner Gregg Loney resigned due to health reasons. He went on to win election to his first term later that year.

In a recent interview, Johnson said he believes he has done well in his first terms and would like to continue in order to “finish the un-finishables.”

“I think I have the skills for the job and the patience,” he said. In addition, Johnson said he has also gained the ability to see other people’s perspectives on issues and to appreciate those viewpoints.

Johnson said some of the unfinished business he wants to complete includes dealing with county infrastructure needs, increasing courthouse security and improving mental health care services and public safety.

Economic development is also an issue for commissioners, but in response to comments from his opponent, Johnson noted that the primary driver for the county in that area is the Port of Walla Walla “and the primary duty of the county commission has been to support that (body).”

“Our role on the county commission is not to be obstructionist” but to help encourage development through such areas as zoning and permitting, he said. “I look at our role as to support agencies that are doing economic development ... That’s what the Port (of Walla Walla) does and I would be supportive of that.”

Johnson reiterated his view, as expressed before the summer primary election, that the challenge county commissioners face is being able to provide the appropriate level of service to the citizens of the county within the confines of the county budget.

This can be a challenge, especially when working with other elected officials, because “county government is moderately dysfunctional by design,” he noted. That said, the role of county commissioners “is to make sure we’re a team” in seeing that vital services are provided.

In the area of public safety, Johnson cited his service as the commissioner’s liaison with the Sheriff’s Office and said that he applauds Sheriff John Turner for developing a strategic plan that includes development of an anti-gang unit. But, however, it is now up to commissioners to to sit down and find out how to do that within budgetary constraints.

One of the ways that might be accomplished is through federal grants, which the sheriff has applied for, that would help pay for two additional officers. But those grants come with costs the county would have to pay, such as unemployment insurance.

“We would support that (if Turner gets the grants),” Johnson said. “But we are in a constant balancing position (in regards to the budget).”

In closing remarks, Johnson acknowledged that this might be his last term on the commission, but that with his experience and background he is the best candidate.

“Jared’s a bright young guy,” Johnson said with a nod to his opponent. “But I just believe I’ve got a tremendous amount of experience and I don’t believe I’m quite senile yet. I just believe I have a lot to bring to the table.”

Andy Porter can be reached at andyporter@wwub.com or 526-8318.

Andy Porter has been with the Union-Bulletin since October 2000. His beats include Walla Walla County, city of College Place, Washington State Penitentiary, agriculture, environment as well as a wide range of general assignment topics.