Newcomer challenges Washougal incumbent

City councilor Ray Kutch faces Denise Korhonen in race for Position 5 seat

In the only contested Washougal City Council race, councilman Ray Kutch is vying against challenger Denise Korhonen in the Nov. 5 general election to retain the council position 5 seat he’s held for nearly three years.

In February 2017, Washougal City Council members appointed Kutch, who was running against nine other applicants, to fill a seat left vacant after Washougal city councilwoman Jennifer McDaniel resigned.

In November 2017, voters elected Kutch to serve the remainder of McDaniel’s term, which expires at the end of 2019.

Voters will decide if Kutch or Korhonen, a former Camas paper mill employee who recently worked to secure benefits for displaced mill workers, will fill the position 5 council seat through the end of 2023.

Ray Kutch

Washougal City Councilman Ray Kutch says this election cycle will likely be his last as a candidate.

“Am I going to be at this much longer? Probably not. This will probably be my last run at it,” Kutch, 78, recently told the Post-Record.

Despite his prediction that this will be his last election, Kutch said he still feels motivated to serve Washougal’s residents and help the community thrive.

“I’ve made efforts — and I’ll continue to make efforts — to help this community maintain its small community feel and still grow,” he said. “I think I’ve done a pretty good job, and I feel like I can continue to do that. I think my experience in the private sector and the military brings something to the table.”

Washougal Mayor Molly Coston, who has worked with Kutch on the city council since November 2017, said Kutch “treats everyone with respect and leads by example.”

“Ray demonstrates a high standard of ethical behavior, which is a key character trait for an elected official,” Coston said. “He spends the time (working) on building community relationships, engaging with the public and gaining knowledge of complex municipal issues. While he respects the concerns of all citizens, he has the leadership skills to find long-term interests for the entire community and is not swayed by pressure from special interests. He listens fairly and thoughtfully, and then does what’s right.”

Kutch, who hails from western Pennsylvania, said it was sports — not politics — that grabbed his attention as a young man. He played football for one year at a small East Coast college before being recruited to the United States Naval Academy (USNA) in Annapolis, Maryland, by Navy football scout Steve Belichick — father of New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick. Kutch was the Midshipmen’s “eighth-string center” for one year before turning his attention to his studies, graduating in 1963 with a bachelor’s degree in engineering.

He served in the U.S. Navy from 1963 to 1970, earning “four or five medals” for his performance as a pilot during the Vietnam War, then served as a Naval instructor for several years.

After earning a master’s degree in personnel management from George Washington University in Washington, D.C., Kutch moved to Vancouver in 1979, then to Washougal in 1990. He worked as a salesman at the Portland branch of Ingersoll Rand, an industrial manufacturing company, before becoming the owner and operator of Dodge City Bar & Grill, a western-themed tavern with locations in Vancouver and downtown Camas, from 1992 to 2013.

“I know the importance of small business,” Kutch said. “I think it’s so important to our community.”

If re-elected, Kutch said he would focus on bringing more small businesses to Washogual.

“We have to build the downtown and grow from there,” he said. “We are not going to have a major employer in this community. We’re not going to have somebody with 200 or 300 employees. We have to foster small business. We have to make it convenient for people to be in small business. We have to have something to sustain our community. If we take care of our people, people are going to be happy here and they’re going to want to live here and they’re going to want to operate businesses.”

Kutch said that he is anxiously awaiting the development of the Port of Camas-Washougal’s waterfront property, “because that’s going to bring more traffic to our community.”

The city councilman said he believes Washougal will have two core business areas — downtown Washougal and the Port’s waterfront development — a decade from now.

“The idea is to try to meld those together if we can,” Kutch said. “What we have downtown is going to help (on the waterfront) and what we have down there is going to help downtown.”

Kutch said he leans more to the right, but also believes in pushing political affiliations aside to benefit Washougal’s residents and businesses.

“We have to do what’s right for the community,” he said. “Too far right, too far left — I’m not there. I try to be in the middle as much as possible.”

Coston agreed that Kutch brings balance to the council.

“Ray has a conservative approach to the details of our annual budget, a quality that is essential to balance the needs of the city with the hard-earned dollars from the community members,” Coston said of Kutch.

Kutch serves as the council’s representative to the city’s lodging tax funding board, and is part of the city’s public safety, community development and public works committees.

“He is a workhorse. He shows up,” said Washougal city council member Paul Greenlee. “He’s been exceptionally successful in that (lodging tax) role. He owned the Dodge City Bar & Grill for many years, and from that experience is a tireless advocate for small business, especially hospitality.”

Kutch, who has been married to his wife, Judy, for 55 years and has three children and six grandchildren, has been involved in public service for decades. In the past he served as president of Orchard Hills Country Club and president and chief executive officer of the USS Ranger Museum Foundation, and he’s currently the president of the USNA Alumni Association’s Oregon and Southwest Washington branch.

He ran for a Port of Camas-Washougal commissioner seat in 1990, but lost to Alan Hargrave.

Quoting 19th century American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, who wrote in his 1841 essay, “Circles,” that “nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm,” Kutch said he tries to bring that philosophy to the city council.

“I try not to sit there and be a bump on a log,” Kutch said. “I try to encourage people to participate and be a part of this community. That’s the key.”

Kutch said that even though he generally doesn’t like to focus on regrets, he “almost wishes” that he became involved in politics earlier than he did.

“It’s what I call ‘psychic income,'” he said. “I get my ‘money’ because I feel good about what we’re doing. I feel comfortable about what I’ve done and what I’m going to do. I’m going to do the best I can, and I feel my experience helps me with what’s going on in the community.”

Denise Korhonen

Korhonen, Kutch’s opponent in the Nov. 5 election, did not respond to the Post-Record’s repeated requests for comment.

According to a Jan. 31, 2019, Post-Record article, Korhonen worked in the Georgia-Pacific paper mill’s bleach plant for 43 years until 2018, and then served as a peer counselor with WorkSource Vancouver, helping her former coworkers file for unemployment benefits, find new jobs and seek retraining opportunities.

According to Korhonen’s LinkedIn profile, she attended Clark College in Vancouver and Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Washington.

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