Conservatives test Thurston’s Democratic strength

The OlympianMay 20, 2014 

At first glance, it appears that a relatively high percentage of this year’s contests for public office have gone uncontested. In nine of the 24 races (about 38 percent) with some interest to local voters, only one candidate filed for office. So those elections have already been decided.

But this year’s judicial races have skewed the numbers and, in fact, South Sound voters will have a say in most of the region’s important elected positions.

Four of the uncontested races are for judges — three district court judge positions and the one open Court of Appeals position for Division 2, District 2. Only current Thurston County Superior Court Judge Lisa Sutton applied for the appellate court, creating an open seat on the Superior Court.

Candidates who might have otherwise filed for lower level District Court positions will now likely seek Sutton’s spot on the county’s Superior Court. It’s easier to run for an open seat without an incumbent in any public office, but it’s particularly true in judicial races.

No candidates filed to challenge the county’s auditor, corner, prosecuting attorney, sheriff or treasurer. Incumbents will argue that winning by acclamation represents a unanimous vote of confidence in their candidacy. In some cases that is true, but communities are always better served when voters can choose between two or more well-qualified candidates.

The other 16 contested federal, state and county positions, bear close scrutiny for the candidates’ differences in perspective on public policy.

Two years ago, both of Olympia’s two Democratic incumbent state representatives in the 22nd Legislative District — Sam Hunt and Chris Reykdal — sailed into office without opponents. But both drew challengers this year — Steven Owens takes on Reykdal and Franklin Edwards takes on Hunt — optimistically testing the common belief that the district is solidly Democratic.

Democratic party strength also plays a role in other Thurston County races. Commissioner Karen Valenzuela — one of three Democrats on the commission — drew independent Bud Blake. Assessor Steven Drew, also a Democrat, will face Carol Person, who is running as an independent but was a Republican nominee for the open auditor position last year.

In one of the more interesting races, two Democrats — Linda Enlow and Yvonne Pettus — will square off to replace 24-year veteran Betty Gould as Thurston County clerk. Voters first elected Gould in 1990, so her replacement could bring significant change to the county’s court operations.

We’ll never understand why the county clerk position remains a partisan position.

It’s interesting that Rep. Denny Heck drew three challengers for his 10th Congressional District seat, although we expect Heck and Republican nominee Joyce McDonald to emerge from the August primary.

The biggest surprise of last week’s filing deadline was the high interest in the Thurston Public Utility District — seven candidates for two seats. It’s a small water district, but the recent debate over authorizing the district to venture into electrical distribution probably triggered the oversized interest.

So, let the campaigns begin, and may they be civil and issue-oriented.

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