Candidates explain differences

Barry Haggerty, a Green Party candidate in this fall's 2nd District U.S. House race, may have made his biggest political gain Thursday night when he gave his opinion of lawyers.

An attorney himself, Haggerty was at Trinity Lutheran Church to do some politicking at a South Whidbey League of Women Voters candidates forum. Following a tense exchange between the two candidates in this year's Island County prosecutor's race -- Greg Banks and state Rep. Kelly Barlean -- Haggerty seemed to echo what was on the mind of the more than 100 people at the forum with one statement.

"A lawyer is either an activist for social change or a parasite," he said.

The comment won Haggerty, who is a fringe candidate in his race, several minutes of laughter and a warm spot in the hearts of everyone in the room who was not an attorney. It also capped an evening during which South Whidbey voters got their first close look at the people vying to represent them in local, state and federal elected offices.

Had the forum been a night at the boxing ring, the headliners would have been the candidates for Island County prosecutor and county treasurer, while the rest, including words from U.S. House and state House candidates, played better as an undercard.

As Haggerty hinted at in his comment, a battle between two attorneys grabbed the most attention.

About an hour into the forum, Barlean did some of the first mudslinging of the 2002 campaign. Referring to a heated e-mail exchange between current prosecutor Greg Banks and an unnamed Island County Sheriff's deputy, Barlean accused Banks of communicating poorly with county law enforcement and failing to prosecute some cases.

"This is a slap in the face of law enforcement," Barlean said.

Banks, who highlighted his record as a prosecutor -- a record he said includes a 30 percent in felony convictions over the past three years, a 90-plus percent overall conviction rate and a case load of more than 2,000 cases a year -- responded briefly to Barlean's attack. He said his office cannot prosecute every case given it by law enforcement because not every case comes with the evidence needed for a conviction.

"Our first job is to protect civil rights," he said.

When it came time for candidates for the treasurer's office to face off with the public, the forum produced an incomplete lineup. Republican Marty Matthews and Democrat Linda Riffe made it to the event, but incumbent Maxine Sauter was a no-show. She sent a representative to speak for her.

Matthews touted his experience as a former Boeing executive and in the computer software industry in his pitch to forum attendees. He then told his audience years of unsatisfactory audit findings in the treasurers office demand a change.

"This destroys confidence," he said.

Riffe said she is not advocating big changes in the treasurer,s office, outside of those required to address auditors' complaints about cash and payment handling in the treasurers office. An administrator with the Oak Harbor School District, Riffe said the treasurer's office has the people and equipment it needs: All it lacks now is the right system for utilizing both.

"The infrastructure is there," she said.

Other candidates who seemed to make good impressions with voters at the forum included state House candidate Eron Berg, Island County Commissioner Bill Thorn and, to a lesser extent, minor party candidates Brett Wilhelm and Barry Haggerty.

Berg earned near-universal applause for his apparent support of education. Married to a school teacher, Berg -- who at 27 is the youngest candidate in his race -- said funding for schools will be a priority for him if elected.

Thorn also garnered warm applause, seemingly winning points for the county's decision this spring to quit spraying herbicides on county roadsides, and for his opposition to unfunded state mandates. However, his opponent, Bill Byrd, made a stir when he accused the county of neglecting economic development on North Whidbey and tourism at Deception Pass.

"We're really not taking advantage of that," he said.

Both Wilhelm, a South Whidbey Libertarian who is running for state House, and Haggerty earned their points with forum attendees with humor and their outspokenness. Wilhelm made no bones in stating his support for Tim Eyman's recent tax-cutting initiatives and his opposition to "majority rule."

Thursday's forum was intended to give voters a chance to meet candidates prior to the Sept. 17 primary election. The League will host another forum on Oct. 17, also at Trinity Lutheran.

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