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Gelder tours district, prepares for campaign

From left, Rob Gelder shares a laugh with County Auditor Walt Washington prior to being sworn in Monday by Judge Roof as Kitsap County commissioner for District 1.  - Brad Camp/For the Herald
From left, Rob Gelder shares a laugh with County Auditor Walt Washington prior to being sworn in Monday by Judge Roof as Kitsap County commissioner for District 1.
— image credit: Brad Camp/For the Herald

A lot is happening fast for Kitsap County’s newest commissioner.

Since taking the oath of office in Port Orchard Monday, Rob Gelder has been finishing business at his old job, studying North Kitsap issues, touring far-flung corners of his district and registering his candidacy for the next election.

“And, believe it or not, it’s already time to start thinking about the budget,” the Brownsville resident said Wednesday.

A lot is happening fast, but Gelder says he’s done his homework.

He began planning for the position in January, when former District 1 Commissioner Steve Bauer announced his plans to retire. Bauer stepped down March 9 to spend more time with his family.

While Bauer was prepared to step down, Gelder prepared to step up, studying county issues and organizing a campaign team to work on two election campaigns in the next two years. Gelder must win an election in November to complete Bauer’s unfinished term, then run for reelection in 2012.

The Kitsap County Democratic Party officials picked Gelder as their top candidate to replace Bauer in February. Clarence Moriwaki of Bainbridge and Linda Berry-Maraist of Poulsbo were ranked second and third respectively.

Commissioners Josh Brown and Charlotte Garrido appointed Gelder to the board Monday and he was sworn in at a meeting that evening. The County Commission position comes with a $109,000 per year salary and requires long hours. The position forces Gelder to end his seven-year employment with Martha & Mary, where he served as fund development director. Today is his last day with the Poulsbo-based non-profit.

Gelder said he met with Bauer to discuss his ongoing projects. Bauer was in the midst of crafting a policy for stewarding the county’s forests and the North Kitsap Legacy Partnership, a proposal to fold thousands of acres of North Kitsap timberland into public open space.

“They’re really important,” Gelder said of those efforts. “They need to continue moving forward.”

Gelder has some experience to draw on as the county crafts its next budget. He served on Kitsap’s citizen budget committee. He expects more cuts will be needed this year, even after a 7 percent cut from the 2010-11. Gelder told the Herald recently he wants to protect human services as much as possible.

“It’s important to maintain that voice,” he said.

The 44-year-old also plans a tour of District 1 community groups. The district stretches from Hansville in the north to Brownsville in the south, and covers Bainbridge Island. On Wednesday, Gelder visited Olympic View, a neighborhood tucked along Hood Canal, just south of U.S. Naval Base Kitsap – Bangor.

“The district is pretty darn large,” Gelder said. “Every one of these communities has its own specific personality and qualities.”

Those stops will also help build Gelder’s profile as he faces upcoming elections.Gelder registered his campaign for the Aug. 16 primary with the state Public Disclosure Commission on Tuesday. He is the only candidate to register so far; the official filing period begins in June.

Kitsap County Republican Party Chairman Jack Hamilton said he hopes a GOP challenger will emerge who is conservative, well-grounded in Kitsap and knows budgets.

“I don’t think he’ll be all that strong,” Hamilton said of Gelder. “He’s another one of these guys who moved to the county five or 10 years ago ... the Democrats have done it again.”

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