Election about to get interesting

The election season is about to get very interesting.

On Saturday night, I attended the Lincoln Day Dinner, where political newcomers and seasoned campaigners unveiled their plans to run for office this year.

Scott Vjeraska was among them.

Scott announced that he’s planning to take on Dave Womack for a seat on the Okanogan County Public Utility District board.

Other candidates who announced their political intentions included incumbent Okanogan County Commissioner Jim DeTro, county Auditor Laurie Thomas and others.

But the utility district race stands out among the many that will surely be on the local ballot.

Without endorsing either of the two men, let’s look at the significance of this race.

Arguably, the outcome of this race will set the tone and direction of a government agency that affects each and every one of us.

Over the last four years, the Okanogan County Public Utility District has dramatically increased power rates, continued purchasing not-yet-required power from wind farms, attempted to use eminent domain powers to take land from the state Department of Natural Resources to build a power transmission line from Pateros to Twisp and re-energized efforts to reconstruct a power plant at Enloe Dam on the Similkameen River.

I have mixed feelings over the utility’s track record, both as a businessman and a resident. For the record, I support the Pateros-to-Twisp powerline effort, but disagree with rate increases while our economy withers. I also disagree with the purchase of unnecessary, expensive wind farm power. And for me, the jury is still out on whether the Enloe Dam proposal is worth the time and effort.

I’ve attended several meetings on those topics over the years. During some of those meetings, Dave has been the commissioner asking the tough questions.

But like many of you — and probably Dave, too — I’ve been frustrated by increasing power bills in the face of our stagnant economy.

Scott said that and many other issues prompted him to get into the race.

Scott wants to change the direction of the utility district and its management. Should he win, he’s got a big chore ahead of him.

I don’t think I’d want to be in either of these men’s shoes come election day.

The ramifications of this race will set the course for our public utility for years to come.

If Scott wins, will Commissioner Steve Houston, the upstart power commissioner who knocked off Patricia “Trish” Butler a couple years back, join him? Or will Steve vote to stay the utility’s current course? If Dave wins, will that validate the last few years’ difficult decisions by utility officials?

Needless to say, this is a race I’ll be tuned into. I suspect many Okanogan County ratepayers will be tuned in, too.

Roger Harnack is the editor and publisher of The Chronicle. He can be reached at 509-826-1110 or via e-mail at rharnack@omakchronicle.com.


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