Have you ever been to a baseball game where a lot of fans left the ballpark early and ended up missing the best part of the game? This past Tuesday evening’s We The People (WTP) Candidate Vetting was a bit like that. That’s not to say that the vetting sessions for U.S. Senate Candidate, Art Coday and U.S. Congress Candidate, Jaime Herrera, weren’t interesting. They certainly were. But the “Closing Act” was Jon Russell; Candidate for State Representative in Washington’s 18th Legislative District and Russell delivered the evening’s most stirring performance. Unfortunately, nearly half of the attendees present earlier in the evening had already gone home.

In writing about two previous WTP Vetting Sessions of candidates for Washington State Representative, I’ve offered observations about room for improvement in the process. After this most recent event, I’d add to that by saying that the “room for improvement” lies as much with participants as it does with the process. In fact, at this point, in this election cycle, I’d argue for not changing the process, at least not for State Representative Candidates in Washington’s 18th Legislative District. Making improvements now would be unfair to those who have already gone through the current vetting process. For future election cycles, however, my recommendation is for WTP to conduct the vetting of State Candidates separately from Federal Candidates. Furthermore, I’d suggest that the venue for vetting a State Candidate should actually be in that candidate’s related Legislative District. In case you don’t know, all three State Candidates who have been vetted so far are candidates in the 18th District but the venue being used by WTP is in the 49th District.

Generally speaking, my concern about the above-mentioned “room for improvement” is that it has resulted in a seeming lack of energy in the State vetting sessions, compared to the Federal vetting sessions. Of course, as I noted above, nearly half of the attendees present for the Federal sessions, at this latest event, didn’t stick around for the State session. Obviously, those who didn’t stick around for the two previous State vetting sessions, took their energy home with them and that seemed to unfairly diminish each candidates overall performance. Surprisingly, although Jon Russell had to confront these same circumstances, the negative impact wasn’t so noticeable. The candidate’s level of energy seemed to exceed that of the Federal candidates vetted earlier, as did his enthusiasm for exploring the specifics of solutions to challenges our communities are presently facing. And, though nearly half of the attendees present earlier had departed, the frequency and volume of applause seemed equal to or greater than that which accompanied the two earlier vetting sessions.

With all this said, let me get to details of Jon Russell’s vetting. First, when it comes to telling you about Jon’s background, you should know that I’m being careful not to tell you more than you may want to know. You see, I probably know Jon better than any of the other candidates being vetted by WTP. In fact, when he was running for U.S. Congress, I was honored to have him ask me to serve as his Campaign Manager. And, when I can, I help out, as a Volunteer, in his current campaign. So, I won’t pretend to be unbiased about this candidate. However, I do try to temper that. The approach I take parallels the instructions you get from a Judge when you’re called for Jury Duty. Typically, that involves being asked to commit to being “fair and impartial” but you’re not expected to “leave your life experience outside the courtroom.”

Jon Russell is the Owner of Columbia Gorge Medical Center, an urgent and family care clinic pioneering a business model aimed at serving the uninsured and underinsured in the community. Jon is, also, Mayor Pro Tem in the City of Washougal. Russell was first appointed to his City Council in 2006, he was elected to that position in 2007 and he was re-elected in 2009. Jon and his Wife, Sarah, make their home in Washougal, along with their Daughters, Eve and Emma.

“Look at how far we’ve come in a year!” That’s what Russell said in his opening remarks, about WTP, noting that WTP’s second meeting was held at his clinic. Considering that his connection with WTP goes back to its beginnings, that he rarely misses attending a WTP event and his regular involvement in many other community organizations, Russell’s “Ability to connect with the grassroots” is pretty obvious.

Russell’s opening remarks, also, provided evidence of this “Candidate’s motives for running.” He encouraged attendees that the cause WTP stands for is “A fight worth having!” I was, particularly, taken with the example he gave of the sort of “fight” that he’s given, as a City Legislator, that he wants to take to Olympia. With a recent matter, where a State Mandate required that his City levy fines against local business for non-compliance with State regulations that would cripple businesses, the City agreed to comply … by levying fines in the amount of $1! In addition to Russell’s motives seeming to be passionate about “fighting” to get our communities back on course, his motives don’t seem to be self-serving. The best indication here was probably his answer to a question I got to ask, as one of the attendees selected for that purpose. My question was about Term Limits. In brief, Russell’s view is that Washington State Representatives should be limited to four terms (eight years) and he’s imposing that limit on himself.

What I really liked about the Q&A portion of Jon Russell’s vetting, which tends to provide the most evidence of “How well equipped is the candidate to serve?”, is that he offered specifics for solutions, rather than just agreeing on negative aspects of our sitting government. Instead of just complaining about “strings” that come with Federal “stimulus” funds, Russell says State Legislators must have the courage to “Say no to stimulus spending.” Beyond just complaining about our State’s out-of-control budget, our Legislators must find specific ways to bring the budget under control. Candidate Russell recommends starting with the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), where a full 1/3 of the State Budget lies. And, he goes on to address the need for those who are getting “a hand up” to have some “skin in the game” and help reduce State budget requirements by paying whatever share that they can afford. In terms of steps that State government can take to “get out of the way” of business growth, Russell points specifically at the B&O Tax and at Washington’s User Taxes. Furthermore, Jon Russell isn’t career-politician-vague about his stance on critical issues like Crime and Public Safety. When asked if he supports the use of convicts to provide labor (along the lines of Sheriff Joe’s programs in Maricopa County, AZ), Russell answers “yes” and he endorses the present use of convicts at Washington’s Larch Mountain corrections facility (located in the 18th District). Beyond this, Russell states his belief that there is appropriate application to bring back a form of “Hard Labor” for convicts and he supports the need for a Death Penalty.

Presently, there are six Republican Candidates running for State Representative in Washington’s 18th Legislative District. I’ve been open about the fact that Jon Russell is the candidate I support and I’ve offered you my observations on his vetting. I hope you find that helpful. But I want to close by giving you the same encouragement Jon Russell offered in his opening remarks at this week’s WTP Vetting event. He encouraged attendees that the cause WTP stands for is “A fight worth having!” That’s not just his fight nor is it just my fight … it’s our fight so don’t let your part go undone and don’t let anyone else do your part for you. Stay involved. Examine each of these candidates for yourself. Make your own decision about which one you will support. Then, get out there and provide all the support you can.