In a few months an election will determine the direction of the Thurston County Commission. One commissioner seat has five candidates vying for that position. This article explains who they are and what they stand for. I am not formally endorsing a candidate for this position at this time.
Thurston County’s legislative and executive branch of government is directed by three county commissioners. Two of them are up for election this year, and the incumbents Cathy Wolfe and Sandra Romero are not running again. The results of this year’s election will certainly determine the direction of Thurston County for at least two years, and probably four. The August 2 primary (ballots hit the mail July 15) will be for each respective commissioner seat – only in their districts. The November vote will be for the general election and every voter in Thurston County gets to vote on both commissioner district candidates. The Thurston County Commissioner Districts look like this:
In Washington State, we have a top-two primary system, sometimes this is called a “Jungle Primary.” What this means is that the top two candidates who garner the most votes continue to the ballot in November. In Thurston County Commissioner District 1 (see map above) there are five candidates vying for the seat. This means that three of these candidates will get bounced out of the election because they won’t make the cut. So, for those Thurston County voters who live in District 2 and District 3, we are counting on our neighbors in District 1 to make the best choices and give us two good options. Two candidates are running as Democrats, one as Independant, and two with no party affiliation. No Republicans filed to run:
The Candidates (listed in the same order they will be presented in the voter’s guide).
Candidate #1 – Jim Cooper
Jim Cooper is 41 years old. His wife works in the Thurston County Auditor’s office in the elections department and will be supporting his campaign on the inside. He has been a member of the Olympia City Council since 2011. His father was Mayor of the city of Edmonds until an election and lawsuit derailed his political career. Jim was the former Executive Director of Together until he was removed from that job when all the employees threatened to quit if he was not removed. The Together board was unanimous in voting to remove Jim from that office. Those employees are under a gag order at least until after this election.
Jim is running as a Democrat, and many Democratic Party insiders have called his campaign a “coronation” rather than election. The celebrations of his impending election victory have already been planned and the champagne is already chilling.
Jim Cooper strongly supports higher taxes for Thurston County residents and has voted for every tax and fee he can find. He is also campaigning for a new income tax. He is exceptionally hostile to the rural residents of Thurston County and has indicated he will support increasingly aggressive regulatory efforts on every facet of rural life he can regulate. Jim’s best friend is convicted felon and stock swindler Joe Hyer who is supporting every nuance of Jim Cooper’s campaign. Jim is the worst candidate for office the Thurston County Democratic Party has fielded since Karen Valenzuela, and I have written much more extensively about him in this article linked here. I may not be endorsing anyone for this race yet, but this guy is clearly a disaster for Thurston County. His campaign website is linked here.
Candidate #2 – Jon Pettit
Jon Pettit is 58 years old. He lives on 28 acres along the Deschutes River where he has often generously given permission to Boy Scouts, friends, school cross country races, and community members to enjoy the river and his property free of charge. The camping areas on his property was also listed for many years as a temporary, safe, free place for battered women to shelter until Thurston County started to harass him and take him to court to deny public access to the river. Interestingly, the Olympian censored most of the original articles off their website so that nobody can find them anymore. They were reprinted in other places like this article. Jon’s father was a Democratic Thurston County Commissioner from 1976 to 1980.
Jon Pettit has been a frequent attendee and speaker at many public hearings over the last four years or so, and is probably the most knowledgeable candidate in this race about local government. For several years he has corrected the many flaws in the Thurston County budget, and it is believed by several observers and even some employees at Thurston County that Jon knows the budget better than Robin Campbell (finance department head). He has provided the most detailed plan for Thurston County on his website found here.
Candidate #3 – Allen Miller
Allen Miller is 61 years old attorney from Olympia, and he is probably the most experienced politician in this race. He recently finished his second term and 8th year on the Olympia School Board and also ran for the position of superior court judge in 2012, but was bounced out in the primary with 31% of the vote. He was also on the short list last year to fill a seat vacated by the election of Mayor Cheryl Selby on the Olympia City Council, but failed to win that selection either. Some view him as a likely candidate to fill Jim Cooper’s seat on the Olympia City Council if Jim Cooper is “coronated.” As the most experienced politician in this race, it is surprising that he made the most amateur mistake possible in this campaign by failing to file his voters guide statement or his photo with the auditor’s office. With seasoned, political pros like former Thurston County Commissioner Judy Wilson running his campaign, this doesn’t appear accidental.
***update, it turns out, the Thurston County auditor’s office bent the rules a bit, and let Allen Miller get his photo and statement into the voters guide late. Here is the full story on that interesting development***
Some have speculated that Allen Miller isn’t serious about running for office because he has frequently donated to Democratic candidates (including Jim Cooper) in the past, despite running as No Party affiliation. Plus he is still listed as endorsing Jim Cooper on Jim Cooper’s own campaign website. Allen was originally recruited to run for office by Ralph Munro and Sam Reed both former Republican Secretaries of State who were politically aligned with Jim Cooper. Sam Reed worked with Cooper on the recently fizzled Thurston Charter effort. Some have speculated that Allen Miller was recruited as a foil to help Jim Cooper win his “coronation.” Few observers take his candidacy seriously now, although he would still be a far better choice than Jim Cooper. Allen Miller’s campaign website is linked here.
Candidate #4 – Diane Dondero
Diane Dondero is 66 years old. She is the only woman in the race this year. She is also the only Bernie Sanders supporter running for this office. As one of only two Democrats in the race, she provides Thurston Democrats who wish to avoid the inevitable and predictable incompetence and corruption of a Jim Cooper Commission, a viable alternative. Diane is a rural Democrat, which is increasingly rare in Thurston County. Anyone who has ever met Diane knows that she is a caring and thoughtful person who would bring a fresh perspective to the Thurston County Courthouse. I certainly disagree with much of her political beliefs, but she is one of those people with whom you can disagree, but still find common ground. For Democrats who want honesty and compassion without the corruption of Cooper, Diane is the best choice on the ballot. Diane’s website and announcement are linked here and here.
Candidate #5 – John (Hutch) Hutchings
John Hutchings is 62 years old. John was the first candidate to formally challenge Jim Cooper and his coronation plans. John was a long time employee of the Olympia Police Department from 1985 to 2012, and was the Police Chief in the City of Tenino until he was removed from that position by former Mayor Bret Broderson in 2015. This event created a political uprising of citizen support for John Hutchings in the City of Tenino which resulted in the removal of Mr. Broderson from elected office in the 2015 election. John Hutchings appears to be the only published author in this race with the book “The Thin Blue Lifeline: Verbal De-escalation of Mentally Ill & Emotionally Disturbed People – A Comprehensive Guidebook for Law Enforcement Officers” about mental health intervention.
With John’s background in law enforcement and mental health intervention experience, he should be strong in those policy areas as a commissioner candidate. He has multi-decade knowledge of the City of Olympia matching or exceeding Allan Miller’s experience, and his connections to the City of Tenino are probably helpful as well. Sheriff Gary Edwards who is the clear front runner for office in neighboring Thurston County Commissioner District #2 is a longtime friend of John Hutchings. John is running with No Party preference, making him the final of three politically unaffiliated candidates in this race. John’s campaign website is linked here.
Regardless of how you plan to vote, please share this article with your friends, family, and neighbors who will be voting this year. I have linked to every candidate’s website, and provided additional details here for you to read for future reference. If you think I’m wrong about something – make a comment below.
I support politicians and candidates, regardless of their political background if they don’t appear to be dishonest, corrupt, and view their political service as a way to milk the taxpayers and property owners in their district for all they can take. I support innovative newcomers as well as steady/proven incumbents. But I don’t support politicians who view the government as the solution to every problem. Empire building in government concerns me. I don’t trust people who want to be generous with other people’s money, but not their own. I want politicians to question staff, challenge assumptions, and be willing to make difficult decisions. I support politicians who are willing to put people first for a change, not their personal pet projects…
Our Constitution begins with the phrase “we the people.” It was the founder’s intent that government be created by the people, to serve the people. It wasn’t their intention for the people to serve the government. It was always intended that government which failed to serve the people should be “altered or abolished.” Until we return to the founder’s intent, we remain We the Governed…
For additional background on Thurston County and the issues we face read these articles: