BREMERTON — In the general election campaign for Kitsap County Commissioner in District 2, voters could scarcely have a clearer divide between the two candidates.
On one side is Christopher Tibbs, of Port Orchard, the young conservative firebrand who rescued the Kitsap County Republican Party from virtual insolvency and restored it to solid financial footing. He has built up a strong list of donors and developed a knack for identifying good candidates to carry the conservative banner.
Ironically, though Tibbs himself has been something of a serial elective candidate during his time spent in politics, he has never actually won an election. He did, however, win the Aug. 2 primary, carrying 44 percent of the vote in a four-way race. That earned him a spot opposite incumbent Charlotte Garrido in the Nov. 8 general election.
Nevertheless, his recruiting and organizational skills have paid off. During his tenure as party chair, Republicans won 19 of 23 contested races, giving the Republican Party a strong presence at the table in Kitsap County policymaking.
His resume is less extensive on issues outside that of partisan politics, but his success in helping place good Republican candidates has made him popular within the party.
For Tibbs, politics is the family business. He is engaged to Michelle Caldier, the 23rd District state representative (who is hobbling on a broken ankle suffered in a recent car accident). He is a lifetime resident of Kitsap County, having been born at Bremerton Naval Hospital.
On the other side is incumbent Charlotte Garrido, of Olalla, who holds a doctorate in urban planning and a 30-year background on a wide variety of civic issues (including, of course, urban planning). The Democrat has served as a Kitsap County commissioner since 2007.
As a 30-year resident of Kitsap County, Garrido has chosen to focus her work in areas that can broadly be summed up as “quality of life” — creating an environment to attract good, living-wage jobs to the county, economic development, urban planning and access to higher education for all county residents. Her experience is largely in urban planning, small-business ownership, education planning, education, community service and the corporate setting.
There are so many pressing issues facing the county that she hesitates to name just one.
“Every day is busy, and each presents a lot of challenges,” she said. “One of the biggest would be developing a good county comprehensive plan. We really need to get a good plan approved and maintain the course, rather than face litigation.”
Her background on boards and commissions gives her a broad perspective on how to dovetail all of the needs of Kitsap County, she said.
“I come to this by being a citizen first,” Garrido said. “I try to remember that every person I serve actually lives in the county, and each of them brings with them specialized expertise about their own surroundings. We can learn from that.”
One of her proudest accomplishments as a commissioner was the way the county managed to keep functioning during the economic downturn.
“It was hard,” she said. “We really had to learn to tighten our belts. For example, we closed the county offices for one day a week. That was hard, because it affected people’s income. But the result was that most people kept their jobs.”
For Tibbs, his key messages are economic development, acting as a champion for South Kitsap, and bringing back what he sees as political balance on the partisan board. He feels the commissioners, and Garrido in particular, are unresponsive to the public.
Originally a Democrat, Tibbs says he left the party because he felt ignored.
“They didn’t want to even hear what I had to say,” he said.
With the Republican Party, he found a kinship with viewpoints more closely aligned to his.
So, he was asked, since he has never actually won an election to public office, why is this race so important? His answer carried the confident echoes of a certain Republican presidential candidate.
“After 20 years, we need a change,” he said. “No one can bring people together like I can.”
For Garrido, the satisfaction of the office lies in the fact that no two days and alike.
“There are always tough challenges,” she said. “But each day also brings solutions.”