It’s more than a little disappointing that 65 percent of this fall’s contests for public office have already been decided. Democracy works best when challengers press incumbents to defend their records and stir debate over issues that will directly affect voters’ quality of life, homes, schools and neighborhoods.
In 49 of the 75 local government positions up for election this year, only one candidate filed for office. Even worse, absolutely no one filed for three positions, forcing the Thurston County auditor to extend the filing deadline to Friday for offices on Bucoda town council and the Tanglewilde Parks and Recreation District.
Among the 26 contested offices, however, several races deserve close scrutiny for the likely difference in perspective on public policy matters.
Partisan politics will probably influence the race for Thurston County auditor, and raising the question again why this office is considered partisan. The county commissioners recently appointed Gary Alexander, the deputy auditor and a Republican, to replace Kim Wyman after her election as secretary of state. Alexander faces a challenge from Democrat Mary Hall of Lacey who has 16 years of experience as the Pierce County elections supervisor.
Voters deserve to know whether Alexander, who is serving his eighth term in the state House, will either resign or not seek re-election to his legislative seat if he wins the auditor’s job. There is no law prohibiting state lawmakers from holding two posts, but Alexander should state his intentions clearly, so voters can make an informed choice.
At the Port of Olympia, incumbent Jeff Davis faces a challenge from Sue Gunn, an environmental activist who briefly contested the newly created 10th Congressional District race last year as a Progressive Independent. This might shape up as a race pitting economic development against environmental issues.
The most interesting city council contest occurs in the beleaguered City of Tenino. Only David Watterson is going unchallenged of the four open seats. With the recent resignation of the mayor and a financial crisis that has council considering a tax on businesses, it promises some lively debate.
The city of Olympia has two interesting races for council seats where two downtown business people — Cheryl Selby and Darren Mills — square off for the position being vacated by Karen Rogers, and Julie Hankins is defending her appointed position against challenger Mike Volz.
In Lacey, incumbent Ron Lawson drew two challengers and Walker Morton will try to unseat Mayor Virgil Clarkson. In Tumwater, it’s curious that the incumbent mayor and council member drew opponents while the two recently appointed members went unopposed.
On a positive note, several South Sound fire districts have contests this year for positions that too often go unchallenged. The two races in Fire District 3 could indicate that tax and coverage issues are still burning in the greater Lacey area.
Those incumbents who have already won their seat by acclamation can argue the lack of opposition indicates a vote of confidence in their candidacy. That may be so, but communities are always better served when voters have a choice between two or more well-qualified candidates.
Seeking elected office is a noble endeavor that takes courage as well as the sacrifice of personal time for the greater good, as a candidate perceives it. During this campaign season, let’s honor all the candidates by engaging them in public conversation and taking the time to understand their positions.