Benton County Commissioner Jim Beaver entered the political arena about 23 years ago because he saw a vision for his hometown and wanted to be a part of that.
Now running for his second term as a county leader, the Kennewick man admits it can be challenging when dealing with money constraints and state agencies, but he enjoys working with the constituents toward progress.
His challenger, Edgar Cousineau, says Beaver has done nothing wrong but he believes our system calls for elected officials to be challenged and he is saddened by the lack of public involvement in politics.
Cousineau of Finley feels his working-class background will allow him to relate better to citizen needs. He acknowledges that he can't change the world as a county commissioner, but feels he can influence the job with what he describes as his biggest attributes: his personality, values and knowledge base.
Beaver and Cousineau, both Republicans, face off Tuesday for the District 3 seat.
In the August primary, Beaver got 6,827 votes or 81 percent, to Cousineau's 1,627 votes or 19 percent.
Cousineau, 40, says it's where he has come from that will give him a unique perspective on the county board. He is unemployed, but says his resume includes eight years as a BNSF locomotive engineer, five years as a union carpenter, three years as a vocational counselor and 15 years in a partnership operating a cherry and apple orchard.
"The important thing is the citizens have representatives all across the board, from the bottom to the top, that they feel they can relate to," he said. "And I feel that my diverse working career has given me that ability to accomplish the job as a county commissioner, and I think that's what our political system is made for."
Cousineau and his wife have a daughter; he also has two stepsons. This is the first time he has sought political office.
He said it is stressful and challenging to step in front of all of Benton County and ask to be elected. He did not serve in the military and feels this is his way of helping the country through public service.
"Why would anybody pick the most popular guy in Benton County to run against? Everybody loves Jim Beaver, and he hasn't done anything wrong," Cousineau said. "But we don't have much of a democracy if you just let all your elected officials run unopposed."
Cousineau is distraught by the loss of jobs across the country and believes that's tied to the lack of products that are made in the United States.
He mostly blames Democrats and Republicans for allowing the employment opportunities in this country to shrink, and said he has a hard time preferring either party because he feels let down by the leaders. But he also acknowledges that citizens should share some of the responsibility because of what they choose to buy.
"I think I would like to see the voters of Benton County elect me because I have this amazing diversity," Cousineau said. "But also, what's very powerful to the people of Benton County, is it would give me a better perspective over the next four years that needs to be made in our county."
Beaver was a Kennewick councilman for 18 years, serving as the city's mayor for 12 consecutive years, before his 2008 election to the county commission. He currently is the commission's chairman.
"My passion has been building a better community since I got involved in politics," Beaver told the Herald. "I just keep looking at things and think we can make it better. That's really my motivation, but the county, it's a different place than the city was."
The county's role really is defined by its budget, with almost 80 percent of it related to criminal justice, he said. That's quite different from the city, where council members talk about building city streets and parks, like the Playground of Dreams, he said.
However, the passion still is there to improve on what the commissioners are doing, whether for the residents or county employees.
Beaver said he was surprised when he became chairman to learn that the county's elected officials don't all have five- and 10-year goals for their offices. He didn't understand how officials could discuss their departments' financial needs, when they weren't prepared to talk about where they wanted to go in the future.
"Maybe the vision is long-term and short-term, we just kind of have an idea of where we want to be in the future, even with the constraints of money. That only means it might take longer," he said.
Beaver, 52, grew up in Kennewick, where his father opened Beaver Furniture. Beaver eventually owned the business before selling it in recent years to a longtime employee.
He said his father impressed upon him at a young age to find something you like and are good at, and that will go a long way in your career success.
"If you can find that in life, that's a pretty big victory," said the father of two.
Key to that is listening to people and treating them with respect so you can try to work things out together.
Whether in the city or at the county level, Beaver said people would come to him frustrated at the lack of progress and their inability to get their message heard. But he said if given the opportunity to express their opinion, they usually have some suggestions to make situations better.
"Everyday life is not roses for everybody, so I think it's important, especially as a politician," to remember your roots, he said. "I've worked with some in the past who've lost sight in their community. That's the politest way to say it."
"It's real important to not forget where you came from," he added. "I learned that a long time ago, and even more important is what it took for you to get there."