Guest column/Democrats played big roles as commissioners

I attended my first Jefferson County commissioners’ meeting in 1988 and found three Democrats holding office: Chuck Klasic, Albert Olexia and Ed Swiger. I spent the next 22 years sitting across from the various players and learned a lot, and sometimes was even inspired. Today I am inspired to recognize the impact of all the Democrats who have held the office of Jefferson County commissioner since they captured the triple crown back then.

Jerry Krupinski served as a commissioner from 1981 until he left for his new job as a state representative in 1987. The county was embarking on a quest to create, improve and expand. Krupinski says he was proud to carry on the work that the late county Commissioner Russell Hesske began, to relocate the county fairgrounds and transform strip-mined land into what we now know as Friendship Park. He also got the ball rolling to bring water and sewer service to county residents who previously had to rely on wells and septic tanks. Krupinski says creating a county water system truly taught him how to serve his constituents. “People need to know you’re there, that you listen and you respond.”

Krupinski’s son, Scott, followed in his father’s footsteps when he served as a commissioner from 1993 to 2001. Projects undertaken during that time include the bumpy road to construction of a new county justice center, establishing the county industrial park and expansion of the county airpark. Krupinski notes that all were accomplished by a bipartisan board, and cites the late Commissioner Dave Hindman as a unifying force.

Richard Delatore served one term as commissioner, from 2000 to 2004. He tells me that he’s most proud that he brought “law and order” to commission meetings, by implementing a more structured meeting agenda that included rules requiring citizens to submit questions and comments in advance.

I can attest that no more random shouting was a welcome change. Delatore credits the office staff with pulling it all together and creating a civil atmosphere, with the late Commission Clerk Linda Porter acting as the rudder that steered the ship. Delatore also strongly opposed efforts to privatize the county water department and points to the efficient operation it has become today, without outside interference.

Today’s board of commissioners includes one Democrat, Thomas Graham, who is now serving his fourth term. He says when he took office in 2003, the county’s financial outlook was far from great, especially when it came to its health insurance plan. Graham took the reins to tackle that debt by forming a committee to recommend changes that eventually brought back solvency.

Now the program can maintain a $3 million surplus to be used for catastrophic medical issues. Graham salutes county workers for contributing to the cost of their plans and is happy that commissioners have often been able to waive their premiums when that surplus passes the $3 million mark. Graham also took the lead in tackling the issues of animal welfare and control, by forming a task force to study those issues, which led to construction of a new animal shelter.

I should note that there also were significant contributions made by two other Democrats elected to a commissioner’s seat since the 1980s — Mike Walkosky and the late Bill Crabbe.

So what does the future hold for Democrats lucky enough to serve as a commissioner? What will it take to be successful? Graham sums it up with advice that Democrats get back to their roots and embrace the foundations of the party, going back to FDR: “Being inclusive to all, including pro-life Democrats; promote a just wage for workers; and health insurance for all citizens that need it.”

Good Democratic values, indeed.

(DeFede is a member of the Jefferson County Progressive Democratic Coalition.)