Two incumbent Stevens County commissioners face challengers in next month’s Republican primaries in the county’s northern and southern districts.
The district winners will meet Democrats Jeff Johnston and M. Grant McMullen in the countywide November general election. Johnston and McMullen have no primary opposition.
One of the biggest questions in the primary races is the commissioner who’s not up for election: J.D. Anderson, a far-right constitutionalist who represents the county’s middle district.
Could one of the winners tilt the county toward Anderson’s radical politics?
Besides touting their budgeting experience as small-business operators, all of the Republican candidates describe themselves as traditional conservatives who shun extremism.
“I would say that the majority of the people out there are afraid of the extreme-right radical movement,” candidate Tony Delgado said, adding he shares that view.
Delgado is challenging incumbent Commissioner Fran Bessermin in District 1 at the south end of the county. The district runs from Suncrest, where Bessermin lives, to the Loon Lake area, where Delgado ranches and sells timber from his rural property.
Delgado, 66, a retired excavation contractor, wants the state and federal governments to sell more timber from public land. He also wants to form a coalition of counties to challenge the state Growth Management Act.
Delgado served on the Loon Lake school board for eight years, until 1988, and currently is on Stevens County’s Federal Lands Advisory Committee. In New Jersey, where he graduated from high school and was a farmer and rancher for 25 years, he served six years on the state Fish and Game Commission.
He and his wife, Marilyn, came to Stevens County 20 years ago. They have four adult children.
Bessermin, 53, is a Spokane businesswoman and Suncrest resident who has been a county commissioner for six years. She describes herself as a “middle-of-the-road Republican.”
Her priorities include solidifying zoning regulations Loon Lake residents fought for years to get and making sure the planned Martin Hall regional juvenile detention center in Medical Lake is completed.
With the county facing a major revenue shortfall, Bessermin said her experience as the senior commissioner and chairman of the board, is especially needed.
Bessermin scoffed at Delgado’s statement that he was told by someone he declines to name that she works only one day a week on county business.
“I can’t imagine who would be feeding him that rumor, but I have my suspicions,” Bessermin said, alluding to Anderson, who frequently makes that charge.
Bessermin holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of California at Long Beach. She was a teacher until she and her husband, Phil, and their now-adult son moved to Suncrest about 16 years ago. Since then, she has operated a company that makes pies for grocery store bakeries.
In the county’s northern district - from Colville to Canada, excluding Kettle Falls - incumbent Commissioner Fred Lotze is being challenged by former Commissioner John Hodde.
Both men are lifelong residents of the district and live on rural properties near Colville.
Hodde, 58, graduated from Colville High School, while Lotze, 62, is a graduate of Northport High. Lotze and his wife, Cena, have three adult daughters; Hodde and his wife, Ellen, have six adult sons.
Hodde is a semi-retired insurance agency owner, who operated his family farm until 1972.
Lotze operated a logging company with his brother before retiring in April to fill the vacancy created by the death of Commissioner Allan Mack.
County Republican leaders passed over Hodde in nominating Lotze. Hodde said he was “unfairly labeled by some people as a right-wing extremist.” While he has a “libertarian streak,” Hodde said he worries about the county budget, not the United Nations.
“I don’t belong to any of these so-called conspiracy organizations that think the world is coming to an end tomorrow because of Rockefeller or anything,” Hodde said.
He considers himself “probably the best budget manager the county has ever had,” and thinks the county would have far less debt if he had remained a commissioner. Hodde served one term before Mack ousted him in 1988.
Lotze also describes himself as a traditional conservative who shuns radical politics. He said he favors local control, property rights and no new taxes.
“I’m definitely against these statemandate deals where the state tells you what to do and doesn’t provide any money,” he said.
Better use of county road money is one of his priorities. “I feel our forefathers built these roads and we’re doing a real poor job of maintaining them,” the candidate said.
Lotze previously served 13 years each on the boards of the Onion Creek-Northport School District and Fire District 3.