The local Kittitas County Commissioner District 1 race is starting to heat up and Tuesday night’s Kittitas Valley League of Women Voters Candidate Forum at the Putnam Community Center in Cle Elum was the sparring ground in front of a capacity audience.

Candidate Nancy Lillquist was quick to jump on a heated development involving her opponent incumbent Cory Wright during an executive session of Kittitas County Board of Commissioners during her opening statement Tuesday.

The executive session Lillquist referred to happened Aug. 21 during a meeting held to discuss possible lease/real estate options the county might have regarding a parcel of county-owned land. Commissioner Laura Osiadacz filed a written statement to the county’s human resources office stating Wright became aggressive and menacing.

“He then started yelling at me,” Osiadacz said in the statement. “He had a wild look in his eyes and postured himself in a threatening manner, which has left me fearing for my safety. While in the meeting, I was completely terrified and was scared he was going to attack me from across the table.”

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Commissioner Wright, whose family history in the Kittitas County dates back six generations, sat at the table on stage, separating him before the full room of constituents and supporters, many of which were wearing “Elect Cory Wright,” T-shirts.

“We all do things that we regret and I am not different,” said Wright, who was appointed to the Board of Commissioners created when Paul Jewell resigned. The seat will appear on the 2019 ballot for the one year left on Jewell’s original term and again on the 2020 ballot for a four-year term.

He did not elaborate, citing he could not legally discuss the context of the incident, but he did say afterward a lot of the information was taken out of context.

The candidates for District 1 answered audience questions ranging from do they support conducting regular meetings in the Upper County to live streaming commission meetings to taxation.

“The most important thing about tonight is giving the voters of Upper County a chance to hear our goals and objectives,” said Lillquist, who has served as an Ellensburg City Council member since 2001, including one term as mayor. “There are certain local differences people in Upper County see important.

“Forestry is certainly important. They have issues concerning transportation they want addressed. But things like economical development and housing that there is in common ground.”

Wright’s family ties to the county go back to the pioneers, but voters will have to determine how that translates to moving forward. He has spent much of his professional career outside the area, working as a harbor pilot, in the stevedoring industry in Oakland and Tacoma. He was involved in opening the Pierce County Terminal.

Wright most recently had been employed at Crowley Marine on the West Side, where he worked in sales and business development, quality control and health and safety management. He’s campaigning on the platform that his mix of professional experience supersedes previous commission inexperience.

“At the end of the day, we all face the same challenges of economical opportunity and growth,” he said. “Kittitas County is a place where people want to live, and with growth comes opportunity. But there’s also impact. We have to balance bringing those people here with maintaining our way of life.”

Both stressed strong leadership and commitment. Like their backgrounds and personalities, they had different ways of getting to the same place.

Wright grew up working on valley farms, and said he knows what it means to earn a day’s paycheck. He stated that salt-of-the-earth upbringing gives him the ability to preserve the county’s historic resource industries, while marketing the area to potential opportunities that complement and respect our heritage and values.

Lillquist is a Summa Cum Laude graduate of Central Washington University with a bachelor’s degree in geography and land studies. She has a Master of Science degree in water resource management from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has lived in Ellensburg 28 years raising their two sons here.

“We can’t forget where we came from. I grew up working for $1.35 an hour working at Winegar’s Dairy,” Wright said with a laugh. “We live here for a reason and we love this place. We don’t want to see that change. But we also don’t want to put the bill on our own as revenue. So we have to bring in those (mid-range) businesses and manage the growth.”

Lillquist said, “I’ve been involved in flood plane restoration projects. I’m proud of the infrastructure developments we’ve been able to implement through the city of Ellensburg,” she said. “I’m pleased with parks and recreation we’ve been able to provide and still do it in a responsible way, keeping our reserves and managing the money well.”

The Kittitas Valley League of Women Voters is currently celebrating 50 years in and the Upper County Candidate Forum was videotaped with live-streamed on the league's Facebook page.


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