Leo Bowman declared Tuesday he will not seek re-election as Benton County commissioner for District 1, saying he prefers to have more time for himself and his wife when his term expires Dec. 31.
"I won't file the week of May 14. It will be an open seat," Bowman told fellow commissioners and a dozen county employees at the commissioners' meeting in Prosser.
Bowman, 72, who will complete 16 years on the commission by the end of the year, said he and his wife discussed whether he should run for a fifth term. "We discussed our future ... things on my bucket list."
By the end of the day, three candidates emerged as potential replacements.
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Minutes after Bowman's surprise announcement, 8th District Sen. Jerome Delvin, R-Richland, told the Herald by email that he plans to run for Bowman's seat in the November election.
The back-to-back statements came two months before filing opens May 14, and they gave notice to Larry Taylor, retired Benton County sheriff, that he will have competition in trying to be elected to the commission in November.
Richland School Board President Rick Jansons also plans to enter the race.
Taylor told the Herald last September after resigning as the county's animal control manager that he was considering a run against Bowman.
Taylor said he had talked with Delvin a month ago, with the understanding that the senator wouldn't be a candidate if Bowman sought re-election.
"So I put wheels in motion and have people helping me with signs, financing and campaigning. It's all on the fast track and I planned to make a formal announcement the first week in May," Taylor said.
"It is intriguing why Jerome is running. He's done a wonderful job in Olympia, but I question his qualifications," Taylor said.
"A county commissioner has to set policy for the county, have some management experience and set a budget. Jerome has never been in a leadership position in Olympia or as a cop in Richland," Taylor claimed. "These things are vital in a commissioner's position."
Delvin said he believes his 18 years of experience will serve the county well, as he's been able to learn the issues that affect the county, including water management, energy, tax policy, small business regulations and land use and development.
"I think it's time to come home after 18 years in the Olympia," he said.
Delvin served 10 years in the state House and has served eight years in the Senate. He serves as deputy Republican whip and is the ranking Republican member on the Senate Energy, Natural Resources and Marine Waters Committee.
Taylor also told the Herald that Delvin being an elected commissioner could create a conflict of interest because the county clerk is Delvin's wife, Josie.
"The board will set her budget and policy and she will have to comply," Taylor noted.
Delvin told the Herald that he sees no conflict.
"She's separately elected to be the clerk," he said. "She has her own department to run. When it comes to the budget, I would be one of three votes."
Jansons told the Herald he has been considering running for a seat on the commission for six months -- well before Bowman decided not to seek re-election.
He said his decision came because he wants to preserve the quality of life that makes Benton County a great place to live and to make the commission and its decisions more accessible to the public.
Jansons said he supports having some commission meetings in the evening so that more people can attend and voice their thoughts and concerns.
"I want this to be a very livable place for my kids and grandkids," he said. "It is such a beautiful area with a great quality of life. We need to preserve that."
He said he has demonstrated leadership and budget-writing skills through his tenure on the Richland School Board -- a position he said he'd like to keep if elected commissioner. He said he doesn't see the two jobs as conflicts.
Jansons also serves as vice president of the Richland Public Facilities District Board.
"I'm really excited about this," he said. "I think I have a lot to offer -- a good vision for Benton County."
During the Tuesday meeting, commission Chairman Jim Beaver thanked Bowman for his years of service, noting his "tenacity on transportation issues."
Commissioner Shon Small added appreciation.
"Thank you for all you've done and your leadership. I've learned a lot the last one and one-half years side by side with you," Small said.
The two commissioners and county employees who filled the commissioners' meeting room gave Bowman a standing ovation.
Bowman said he thought about the decision for a long time.
"I take my commitments seriously, for my constituents here and across the state. There's a certain amount of guilt involved because we haven't completed the Red Mountain interchange yet," he said.
"There's a lot of public service left in me," said Bowman, a 40-year Kiwanian who isn't sure what kind of public service could draw him back.
It won't be political service, however.
"I'm not interested in anything on a full-time basis that takes me away from my family, especially my wife," he said.
Bowman said he plans to spend more time with his wife, make more road trips to Arizona to visit his daughter and her family, and to hole up in his "man cave," which he said is a 1,000 square-foot shop that is both a wood-working den and a hang-out with a TV, bathroom and recliner.
"I don't have a bed, but the recliner goes back quite a ways," he said.