Gateway: News

Michelle Matheson: A soccer mom who came to love ‘the game’ of politics

Michelle Matheson is a candidate for Gig Harbor City Council Position 5. An interview with her opponent, Robyn Denson, can be found here.

Michelle Matheson is a genuine soccer mom, and proud of it.

“There are a lot of miles on my soccer-mom vehicle,” she said over coffee at Cutter’s Point. She is wearing no-nonsense half-rim glasses and a small gold pendant that says, “Go Harbor.”

“It has a double meaning,” she smiles.

Both of her sons, Brady, 14, and Tyler, 9, play with Harbor Soccer, and that’s what turned her into a community activist. She is running for Gig Harbor City Council in Position 5.

“I started going to City Council because soccer kids were having a hard time finding fields to play on,” she recalled. “I discovered every sports group had the same problem. So instead of fighting each other, we decided to band together.”

Matheson got on the Harbor Soccer board and became liaison for the sports community to the council and the parks commission.

“That’s when I developed a love of the game,” she said.

One of the results of that effort, she notes, is the pending Gig Harbor Sports Complex.

Matheson and Justin, her husband of 16 years, moved to Gig Harbor from Sacramento, Calif., seven years ago.

It was, as she tells it, love at first sight.

“The minute we set foot in Gig Harbor, it was like nowhere else we had ever lived,” she said. She recalls walking down Harborview Drive for the first time and “I swear, got a wave or a hello or made eye contact with everyone I met. I thought, ‘Wow!’ “

Matheson manages the membership staff at the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce, and runs a small business on the side, advising non-profits and political action committees on fund-raising.

She is business-oriented and calls herself a “moderate conservative.”

“I don’t like to get too far from the center,” she said. “But I guess you could call me a fiscal conservative.” Her political fund-raising is mostly for “my conservative friends.”

Matheson has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Holy Names University and a masters degree in marriage and family therapy from the University of Phoenix

Managing growth

Like other council candidates, she sees managing the city’s explosive growth as the biggest challenge ahead.

“We have doubled in size in just six years,” she said, and sprawling new developments have caused a lot of alarm and anger.

“A lot of citizens don’t understand that these are things the city has to do, to follow the state growth plan,” she noted. “Then, too, a lot of things decided 10 years ago are happening now, and that’s causing people to be angry.”

“There is a lot of blame being put,” Matheson said. “But I think it’s better to make a plan for the future than be angry about things that are past.”

“We need to have more amenities,” she said. “More shopping and restaurants closer to the neighborhoods. And we need to make sure it’s spread around, so all parts of the city get to share equally.

“That would help with the traffic situation, too, because people will be traveling less far.”

The recent moratorium on residential permits “did what it intended to do, it slowed down building, but it also resulted in a drastic reduction of revenue,” she said.

“Businesses like grocery stores are not coming in or are stalled, and citizens are not happy about that. Some of our builders say they don’t even want to work here. They say, ‘Let’s not go to Gig Harbor, they won’t be fair.’ “

Matheson wants to make the building permitting process more streamlined.

“Some have waited two years for permits,” she said. “Why should it take two years to get a permit?”

She thinks the city relies too heavily on revenue from sewer permits and sales tax, and needs to “come out of the box a bit” and look for other sources of revenue.

“We need to go fight for funds from the state and federal government,” she said.

Great divide

In doorbelling, Matheson sees “a great divide building between the North end and downtown.”

“We have a great history downtown, but new citizens don’t know this,” she said. “People tell me at the door, ‘We don’t feel we are being heard in the north.’ I’ve met people who tell me they never go downtown.”

“When I walk doors, people say they don’t feel heard. They don’t want to go the council because they don’t think they’ll be heard. And that’s too bad. Everyone should feel they have a voice.”

Part of the problem, Matheson said, is that the present council bickers more than listens.

“I would love for it not to be a place for grandstanding, but for listening and working out solutions as a team. And I don’t see that right now.”

Matheson thinks she might be able to help. “I have a background in psychiatry. I’m an excellent listener. I tend not to be a person of drama. I will come to the council with an open mind, do my homework and be prepared to make a decision based on facts.”

Asked what sets her apart from her opponent, Matheson thinks for a moment.

“I would like to think that I am open to the public process and making sure everyone has the same information,” she said. “I might be a little on the conservative side and focus more on fiscal responsibility.”

Matheson has been campaigning mainly doorbelling. By mid-October, she estimated she had knocked on 4,000 doors.

“I actually enjoy that part,” she said. “It energizes me. On a good day, it’s a 5-mile walk, and my legs are shaking. I’ve worn out a couple pairs of shoes.”