This much is certain as Spokane County residents prepare to step into voting booths Tuesday: Neither of the candidates vying to replace Steve Hasson as Spokane County commissioner will keep the community amused as Hasson has for eight years.
Kate McCaslin and Ron Hormann are too serious to clamber out office windows as reporters bang on the door.
Fact is, they’re running as much against Hasson, whom McCaslin trounced in September’s Republican primary, as each other.
McCaslin says Hasson brought disrespect upon the office, and didn’t keep a tight rein on spending. Hormann contends Hasson and other county leaders favored developers over good planning.
Both candidates have a strong work ethic that stems from farming roots. But that and their shared space on the ballot are about the only things they have in common.
It was a ranch house, not a courthouse, that McCaslin had in mind when she majored in animal science at Washington State University. A Casper native whose family moved to the Spokane Valley when she was 10, McCaslin traces her political heritage to a grandfather who was a Wyoming state legislator and small-town mayor.
For a time in the early 1980s, McCaslin worked on a horse ranch in the Cowboy State. She returned to Spokane in 1982, and worked first for her family’s concrete business, then as executive director for Associated Builders & Contractors Inc.
That contractors organization, along with builders, Realtors and groups representing them, are among McCaslin’s largest contributors.
Since 1988, McCaslin and her mother, Donna Meidling, have run a business that offers management and political consulting. McCaslin bakes fancy desserts on the side.
Although this is her first run for office, McCaslin is no newcomer to politics. She worked as a volunteer or paid consultant on campaigns for former presidents Reagan and Bush, former Rep. Todd Mielke, former Sen. Gerald Saling and Spokane City Councilwoman Roberta Greene.
She worked to pass bond issues for Valley school districts. Her consulting firm earned $11,000 in 1990 helping defeat Initiative 547, which would have placed strict limits on land use.
Repeatedly during this year’s campaign, McCaslin has said she can live with the Growth Management Act, which was the Legislature’s lessrestrictive answer to Initiative 547. But as a member of the Valley Chamber of Commerce, she seconded a motion urging the chamber to show support for Chelan County’s fight to have the act repealed.
Last year, McCaslin was a consultant in the successful fight to stop construction of a $17 million state office complex in Spokane.
State officials said the complex would save about $88 million over 50 years because agencies could share office space and equipment, and could stop paying rent on scattered offices throughout the city.
McCaslin’s clients, the owners of buildings the state would stop leasing if the consolidated offices were built, argued they gave the state a better deal than it could get through ownership. McCaslin warned that some downtown buildings would be left vacant if the state agencies moved.
Also last year, McCaslin managed the campaign to put a branch of the Pacific Science Center in Riverfront Park. City residents rejected the proposal by 350 votes.
Steve Corker, who led the fight to keep the science center out of the park, said McCaslin is a tough adversary and “a good communicator, like Ronald Reagan.” She probably could have won the Science Center campaign if her clients had followed all her advice, he said.
“I don’t necessarily think that’s going to make her a better county commissioner when it comes to the issues,” said Corker, who plans to vote for Hormann.
In 1989, McCaslin married - and has since divorced - Bob McCaslin.
A state senator running for his fifth term, Bob McCaslin has rarely voted for a tax increase. Property rights advocates call him a hero for repeated attempts to weaken or repeal the Growth Management Act. To environmentalists, he’s a villain.
Knowing those facts about the senator helps put Kate McCaslin’s political views in perspective.
“Sometimes I think that I’m even more opposed to government interference than he is,” she said during her ex-husband’s 1992 campaign.
Hormann was county engineer last year, when he was given the choice of retiring or being demoted. Public Works Director Dennis Scott made the decision to reorganize the department, but the move was approved by Hasson and Commissioner Phil Harris.
“I can only assume they want to give more freedom to developers,” Hormann said after he left his county job and was replaced by a Republican activist and contributor to Harris’ last campaign.
Scott said the shuffling was meant to make the department more responsive to all customers, not just developers. In a recent interview, he called Hormann “a nice guy” and “a good engineer” who let his employees call the shots.
“I don’t see the management skills that he’s touting” as a candidate, Scott said.
Bob Turner, Hormann’s boss until 1987, called him “a team player” and “one of the few (employees) who would stand up and tell you when you were wrong.”
Turner donated $1,000 to Hormann’s campaign, as did Terry Lightfoot, an inspector in the engineer’s office. Lightfoot praised Hormann as forward-thinking, noting that he talked about the need to improve roads and control storm water long before Interstate 90 had a rush hour or houses along Chester Creek started flooding.
Raised on a farm in Kansas until he was 17, Hormann moved with his mother to Fairfield, Wash., shortly after his father died.
He majored in civil engineering at WSU, and worked for Boeing and the state Department of Transportation before taking a job with Spokane County in 1968. He became county engineer, with control of a $47 million budget, when Turner retired in 1987.
With Hormann in command, the engineer’s staff grew from about 180 to 241. McCaslin contends that shows Hormann let things get out of control. It’s more a sign of the growing demands placed on the engineer’s office, said Scott.
“Even when we reorganized after Ron left - and we looked pretty hard at the figures - we only dropped three (employees),” he said.
The soft-spoken Hormann was forced at times to take controversial stands.
Hormann’s employees talked for years about forming a storm-water district before county commissioners finally took action in 1993. When the tax bills were mailed a year later, the engineers answered calls from hundreds of angry taxpayers.
In 1994, when some business owners threatened to sue if the county built a six-lane arterial through the Valley, Hormann urged newly elected Commissioner Skip Chilberg to support the project.
This year, county commissioners dropped the South Valley Arterial in favor of a couplet proposal that is proving popular. McCaslin contends Hormann’s dogged support for the arterial kept the county from exploring options.
“Just this year, with Ron gone, they’ve come up with the couplet idea,” she said.
Hormann, who supports the Growth Management Act, said fighting traffic snarls, pollution and the other ill-effects of unplanned growth would be his top priority as commissioner.
“I’m just an uncomplicated person who has just one concern: Where is Spokane going?” he told members of the Cheney Kiwanis Club on Wednesday.
, DataTimes MEMO: See individual profiles by name of candidate