Three candidates will face off in the Aug. 7 primary election for Position 2 on the Columbia County Board of Commissioners. Tom Bensel, Anne Higgins and Mike Talbott are running to replace Commissioner Richard Jones, who is not seeking reelection. The top two vote-getters in the primary will move on to the November general election.
For Position 1, Commissioner Dwight Robanske is seeking his fourth term, and is running unopposed. All four candidates are running as Republicans.
Tom Bensel moved to Dayton at age 10 and is a Dayton High School graduate. After attending Walla Walla Community College and Eastern Washington State College, he worked for nine years in the nuclear industry -- most of that time at Hanford.
In 1986, Bensel returned to Dayton and was hired as county road superintendent, a position he held until 2004. That year, he left the county to work for Puget Sound Energy as a construction inspector at the Hopkins Ridge wind farm. After working on other wind projects in Washington and Oregon, he recently worked on PSE's Lower Snake River wind project in Garfield County.
While with the county, Bensel was active in the Washington State Association of County Road Supervisors, including serving as its Eastern Washington chairman for two years. "We held two state-wide conferences each year," he said, "and I was an organizer and presenter many times."
Bensel says his experience with the county and knowledge of its operations will be a great asset as commissioner. "I sat across the table from the commissioners many times," he says, "and I understand the issues the county faces."
Bensel says that, with state budget cuts, the county faces continued fiscal tightening in coming years. He will focus on doing the best job possible to provide necessary services to county residents in an efficient manner.
Anne Higgins grew up in a military family and lived many places, but she's spent most of her life in Washington. Higgins moved to Dayton less than a month before the big flood of 1996. "I started right out filling sandbags," she said.
After receiving her bachelor's degree from WSU in 1999, Higgins went to work for the state Auditor's Office, performing audits on a wide range of taxing agencies in Benton, Franklin, Walla Walla, Columbia and Garfield counties. "I worked with ports, fire departments and many other agencies that receive tax money," she said.
After leaving her state job in 2007, Higgins worked as chief financial officer for Walla Walla County's Department of Human and Health Services and for the Walla Walla Housing Authority.
Since 2010, Higgins has been co-owner and manager of Shell Service Center in Dayton.
Higgins feels her financial background with government agencies will be a valuable asset in dealing with the county's budget. "The economic crisis had a huge impact on county finances," she said, noting that the state has made big cuts in funding to counties.
Higgins says she will work to organize county departments more efficiently and also work closely with groups like the Port of Columbia and the Dayton Chamber of Commerce to help improve economic growth in the county.
Mike Talbott is a Dayton native and graduate of Dayton High School. After receiving his AA degree from Walla Walla Community College, he went to work on the family farm. He has been manager of Talbott Farms Inc. for 28 years.
Talbott served on the Dayton School Board for 17 years, leaving that position in 2004. For the past seven years he has been on the board of the Columbia County Grain Growers. He has also served on the committee overseeing the Dayton/Columbia County Fund since its inception nearly a decade ago.
"Our community is fortunate to have many great volunteers," said Talbott, "and I've always tried to be part of that."
Talbott credits his success in farming to a conservative financial approach, one he will bring to the job of commissioner and to managing the county's budget. "I've been in farming 42 years, and we've always been successful, even in the down years. I'm proud of that," Talbott said.
"A lot of people are struggling and look to the county for help," he said. Talbott says the services the county provides are important, but the funds must be managed carefully and conservatively.
Talbott also plans to increase emphasis on making the county more businesses-friendly. "We need to streamline the planning process and do more to encourage businesses to move to our area," he said.
Ken Graham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 540-2752.