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Inslee appoints Kelso man to vacant Cowlitz County commission seat

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County Administration Building exterior stock

The Cowlitz County Administration Building is pictured in this TDN file photo in 2018. 

A Kelso resident who had not initially applied for the vacant Cowlitz County Commissioner District 3 seat was appointed to the position Thursday by Gov. Jay Inslee.

John Jabusch, 62, of Rose Valley is a co-owner of Pro Caliber Motorsports in Vancouver. He applied directly to the governor’s office Nov. 22, after the decision was forwarded to Inslee earlier in the month, according to Inslee’s office.

“My desire to serve as the Cowlitz County Commissioner for District 3 stems from my life long commitment to this community and our people,” Jabusch wrote in his application letter. “I seek to serve on the county commission because I have had to watch our once thriving community fail due to a lack of visionary leadership and political divisiveness.”

Cowlitz County commissioner finalists sent to governor for consideration

A 1977 Kelso High School graduate, Jabusch worked at Wilcox and Flegel until 1989 before starting Petroleum Services Unlimited, which he sold in 1994. Jabusch then bought the Honda motorcycle dealership in Longview, which later became Pro Caliber Motorsports. The Longview store closed in 2016.

Jabush said he believes he can help make changes and bridge the divide between the blue-collar world and the business world.

“We can work together to set the necessary standards to allow industrial and manufacturing projects to be permitted that will achieve the complex goals of climate mitigation, environmental protection, creating family wage jobs and sustainable development,” he wrote. “I believe that I have the business skills and the ability to work with groups from all walks of life and that I could be an asset in bringing people together to make progress for our community.”

Jabusch’s application letter stated the county’s top three candidates “all seem to lean the way that the current commission members lean and that would not honor Mr. Gardner’s presence as an independent voice on the commission.”

State law outlines the process for filling vacancies, including that the appointee must be from the same district and political party as the former commissioner. The county central committee of that party nominates three candidates for the board to choose from. Since Cowlitz County does not have an Independent party central committee, the commissioners in late August agreed to form a candidate review committee consisting of three independent county elected officials, a Republican county elected official and a Democratic county elected official to make recommendations from the applicants.

The county sent the names of the three finalists and their applications to the governor’s office Nov. 2 after Commissioners Arne Mortensen and Dennis Weber did not appoint a candidate to the seat vacated by Joe Gardner within 60 days.

Statute does not require the governor to choose from the three submitted, said Mike Faulk, the governor’s office press secretary. Faulk said he is not aware of any other candidates considered.

Weber said the county’s candidate selection process didn’t guarantee an Independent candidate, as the applicants weren’t asked about their political affiliation or activity. The county did the best it could to fulfill the process absent of direction outlined in state law, he said.

Jabusch is a good choice and will do a great job “reflecting Cowlitz County values,” Weber said. The commissioner said he knew of Jabusch as a successful businessman who is active in local groups and agencies.

“The governor and I have had our differences of opinion in different areas, but I’d say if he was going to go outside our list, he picked a winner for Cowlitz County,” Weber said.

Mortensen said he’s disappointed the governor didn’t pick from the three finalists but “it looks to me that he tried to do a good job.” Mortensen said he is optimistic about the appointment and intends to make any new commissioner as successful as possible.

“To make the BOCC a success for the county has always been my goal,” he said. “We need a third commissioner and I’ll have open arms.”

The appointment is effective immediately, and Weber said Jabusch likely will be sworn in Tuesday.

Prior to this decision, the most recent county-level gubernatorial appointment occurred in Spokane County in 2017 after the commission couldn’t agree on a candidate, according to the governor’s office.

Joe Gardner to step down as Cowlitz County commissioner Sept. 3

Gardner announced Aug. 23 he would be stepping down from the seat effective Sept. 3 to return to the private sector. His term is set to expire Dec. 31, 2022. Jabusch will have to win the 2022 election to keep the seat beyond the end of that year.

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