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Islanders in line to succeed Schmidt

"It may be mere coincidence that two of the strongest candidates to replace longtime Bainbridge resident Karen Schmidt in the state legislature’s 23rd District have the strongest ties to the island.Mike Jones, a Bainbridge High School graduate, has been a longtime grass-roots Republican Party activist and now serves as the GOP’s 23rd District chair. Ed Wright doesn’t live on the island and hasn’t resided long in the region, but he’s a five-day-a-week Bainbridge-to-Seattle ferry commuter with a wealth of federal-level political experience.They’re two of seven announced candidates for the seat formally vacated this weekend by Schmidt, who traded her 18-year tenure in the Legislature this weekend for a new job as the executive director of the newly created state Freight Mobility Strategic Investment Board.Because Schmidt’s term ran through 2000, the task of picking her replacement falls not to the voters but to the 50 Republican precinct committee officers in the 23rd District, which also includes North Kitsap, Central Kitsap and parts of East Bremerton.They’ll convene Nov. 20 at St. Charles Episcopal Church in Poulsbo to select a list of their top three candidates to pass along to county commissioners, who will make the final appointment.Other than Jones and Wright, the list includes:• Joan Gorner of Poulsbo, the current chair of the North Kitsap Republican Women’s group.• Gloria Hargrove of Poulsbo, former county GOP chair and wife of former 23rd District representative Steve Hargrove.• Larry Stickney of Kingston, a legislative aide to arch-conservative Rep. John Koster of Arlington.• Beverly Woods, chairwoman of the Kitsap County Mainstream Republicans.• Paul Zellinsky of Bremerton, former 23rd District representative from both the Democrat and Republican parties.Ray Dupree of Kingston, a retired Marine and airline pilot who’s been active in the party, withdrew his name from consideration earlier this week.Jones, 35, who last surfaced as a primary candidate for the other 23rd District slot against Zellinsky three years ago, most recently served as the local party’s platform chairman to the 1998 state convention.He admits to considerable social-conservative credentials – the avoidance of which was a hallmark of Schmidt’s tenure – but says he’s a consensus-builder capable of bringing together all Republican factions.“I have a lot of contacts in Olympia already, and I’m well-known in the caucus,” Jones said. “I’m definitely not someone who’s going to implode in a Steve-Hargrove-like fashion.”If selected, Jones said he would concentrate on minimizing the financial impacts on local transportation in the post-Initiative 695 political landscape – particularly Kitsap Transit and Washington State Ferries.“We’re going to go down there and do what we can to restore those funds, and there are funds available to make that happen,” he said.Despite his party loyalty, Jones said he’s not a GOP yes-man.“I believe in sticking to a party philosophy,” he said. “But it is irresponsible not to work with all elected officials and not do what’s best for the 23rd District.“I don’t want to see gridlock used as a means to punish the voters for 695.”Wright, 42, is a newcomer, and a bit of an enigma, to Kitsap County party politics. A King County native, he spent most of his professional life outside the area as a journalist and Washington, D.C. activist. He’s a committed Christian with extensive environmental and international-trade credentials.Like Jones, Wright would rather delve into substantive funding issues than shout over social-conservative manifestoes as a legislator. He’s centering his campaign around what he calls “the three Ts” – transportation, trade and taxation.As a motorcycle commuter from his Poulsbo home to his downtown Seattle office, where he works as a marketing manager for an electronics manufacturing firm, ensuring a smooth flow on Kitsap’s land-and-sea byways is Wright’s key priority.“If we really want to solve traffic problems, we have to look at preserving public transportation as our first option,” he said. “We can’t look at it as the answer and watch all the jobs going across Puget Sound.”The creation of “Main Street” trade is a hand-in-hand issue, as Wright sees it. Taxation is inevitably part of that equation too, he said.“Why not create jobs in Kitsap County, so we’re not looking at building more ferries and bridges?” he said. “All that’s going to do is make it more attractive to people who work on the Seattle side to live here. Why not create incentives for friendly industries to move here?”In all, Wright says he represents a amicable alternative to party-line politics.“This is an exciting time for the state,” he said. “And if I were looking for somebody to represent me, I’d want a representative who will do what’s best for the state and for Kitsap County, not for the party.”"

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