It is that time of year again…
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A contentious political race for the open Thurston County Commission seat is in process right now – ballots have been mailed, and some have been completed and mailed to the Thurston County Auditor (no postage required).  However, this leaves the rest of the primary voters, procrastinating before they fill out their ballot.

In Thurston County, only a handful of county level races are being contested.  The County Prosecutor and the County Auditor have opponents.   The Assessor, Clerk, Treasurer, Coroner and Sheriff get free rides this year (which doesn’t prevent you from voting for the blank spot and filling in another name if you don’t like the unopposed candidate).  However, it is the Thurston County Commissioner seat where the campaign fireworks and cash will be flying this August.  When those ballots are counted on August 7th two of the four candidates vying for victory will get bounced.  The top two survivors who get the most votes will move onto the general ballot.

Thurston County is a Commission form of local government (as opposed to a home rule charter structure).  There are three county commissioners, and they have executive, legislative, and some limited quasi-judicial roles in local government.  During Presidential elections, two commissioners are up for election, and during the next even-numbered year, one commissioner seat is up for election.  2018 is an election year for the solo commissioner seat.  A commission county is divided into three districts.  Each election, the commissioner seat is contested at the primary level in their own district.  The top two continue to the general election when they face off county-wide in November.

The three independant commissioners in Thurston County. (L-R) John Hutchings, Bud Blake, Gary Edwards

Thurston County made state history in 2016 with the election of Independent Commissioners John Hutchings and Gary Edwards.  Neither was affiliated with either the Republican or the Democratic Party.  Thurston County had never experienced a County Commission consisting entirely of political independents before this.  As best we can research, it also appears to be the first time in modern history that the Thurston County Commission has no members of the Democratic Party holding office.  The local Thurston County Democratic Party has suffered an identity crisis as a result.  In addition to violating a variety of campaign finance laws (and suffering through an expensive AG lawsuit including over $20,000 in legal fees and a $27,000 settlement, which was initiated by a complaint filed by this author), internal strife has plagued the party in their effort to regain a Commission seat.

The Independent Incumbent vs. Three Left-leaning challengers

Thurston County Commissioner Bud Blake

The Democratic Party strife is partly reflected in the primary political race underway.  Four candidates are in the race.  Incumbent Commissioner Bud Blake is the target for all the challengers, of course.  Ever since his original unexpected victory over the incumbent Democratic Commissioner Karen Valenzuela in 2014, the Thurston County Democratic Party’s fury has been smoldering.  In early 2015, the Democratic Party’s talking point was that Valenzuela alienated the local public sector unions and Commissioner Blake’s 2014 victory was a fluke.  However, the 2016 shut out of all Thurston County Commission seats from the Democrats tossed that theory into the dustbin.  The 2018 #woke campaign against Bud Blake is riled up.

The Cannabis Jedi?

Candidate “Jed” Haney – longtime Cannabis / Marijuana activist (walking in the Swede Days Parade in south Thurston County – June 2018)

The most self-styled “Progressive” candidate on the ballot is Jed Haney (website linked here).  Haney is running as an “Independent,” but his public statements emphasize a more “Progressive” Leftist approach to local government.  According to his website, four of his five public safety initiatives involve Marijuana in some way, and other than the nod to Eco Tourism for Thurston County, his platform sounds like something cooked up at Hempfest or on the Evergreen College Campus.  He has a public history of marijuana activism, which matches his policy platforms.  His priority and focus is consistent.

Of the four candidates running for county commissioner, Jed has raised the least amount of money – he has only reported $345 from five identified donors.  He also loaned himself a little over $1100, which was probably just enough to pay for his campaign signs, one of many expenditures which he failed to report to the Public Disclosure Commission.  Unfortunately, it appears Haney didn’t report any expenditures for this campaign to the PDC.  It seems likely that he will soon experience the joy and wonder of a campaign finance complaint in his near future for that oversight, among others.

Style Points and Pointers – Jed’s real name is Jedidiah Haney, and it seems silly to shorten his name for political reasons.  Jedidiah is a cool sounding, Old Testament name given to him by his Jehovah Witness mother, and he should wear it with pride and not shorten it just for a political campaign.  However, because his campaign sign has the “.com” oriented vertically after his first name, a quick passing glance has turned the “VoteForJed” into “VoteForJedi” which is pretty awesome as well and he deserves some Star Wars Fanclub support for that detail.  I would encourage Haney to run for office again, and I always enjoy seeing dedicated activists of any kind put their names on the ballot.  I give Haney kudos for stepping into the political arena.  Next time someone needs to make sure he gets a real treasurer to help him out with those PDC filings.

Establishment Democrats have a candidate

Thurston County Commissioner candidate Melissa Denton at Swede Days Parade in Rochester- June 2018

Melissa Denton is second to last in fundraising for this political campaign.  Her facebook page is linked here.  According to her filings with the PDC, she has raised $29,000 of which $12,000 consists of loans from herself to her campaign.  This is a tough way to fund a campaign, but as a long time local attorney, Denton appears to be willing to pay the price to play the political game rather than fundraise.  Judging from her donor base, she represents the sleepier establishment wing of the local Democratic Party.  She was able to convince the Washington State Democrats to kick in $1000, as well as collect some checks from local 22nd District Rep Dolan, and Kathleen Drew, former Senator from Issaquah and current wife to the Thurston County Assessor.  Her donor base trends establishment Democrat.

Melissa Denton’s Flower Power parade Truck

When Melissa Denton was working the Swede Day Parade in Rochester last month, she was the only Democratic candidate who consistently worked the crowd and seemed willing to directly interact with people.  This is good, old-school politics and people respond well to this personal touch.  However, her flower-power parade mobile was a bit eclectic and out-of-place in south Thurston County.  The hummingbird on her signs is a nice touch.  Nothing wrong with a bit of eccentric imagery, but it isn’t clear how this translates into votes.

The Hummingbird is a nice touch…

Denton’s campaign appears to have lost a lot of steam since it launched.  It is unclear why, but lackluster fundraising and minimal presence outside safe political circles are probably contributing factors.  The ability of Denton’s campaign to reach out to new audiences is retarded by the fact that a majority of her expenditures are made to consultants and not spent on direct voter contact.  This challenge is compounded by observations recently at several public functions where Denton seems resigned to the fact that she may not survive the primary.  Her emphasis that she is good friends with and even a supporter of the most likely Democratic Party candidate to survive the primary and face off with Commissioner Blake in November is also a giveaway that this campaign is winding down.  At least the consultants got paid.

Banjo-playing Tye might be the guy to face Blake in November

This leads to the final challenger, and probably the Thurston County Democratic Party’s best hope this cycle for someone to claw back a Commissioner seat at the Thurston County Courthouse.  California native Samuel T. Menser (see website here) is running for office as “Tye” Menser, although his PDC filings are all under his real name, “Samuel.”  “Tye” sounds better and it rhymes with “guy.”  This way the campaign can say “Tye’s the guy!”  Menser’s fundraising numbers of $46,000 are almost on par with incumbent Blake’s fundraising totals, but it took a $6,000 personal loan to Menser’s campaign to get there.  Menser’s $20,000 + in campaign expenditures is spent more wisely than Denton’s campaign because he isn’t squandering his limited funds on low value campaign consultants. 

Samuel T. (Tye) Menser wears a cowboy hat and plays the banjo in the Swede Day Parade in south Thurston County

Menser has an interesting resume for a local Democratic Party candidate.  A Harvard grad and a law degree from Berkeley ensures he will impress the local wine and cheese crowd in Olympia.  His limited local government experience in Thurston County (he served a short time on a water conservation board 5 years ago) ensures he doesn’t have much political baggage.  This makes him a nice blank slate on which to paint a pretty picture of a generic Commissioner candidate.  With a 20 year career in law, his public speaking skills have been honed in the courtroom.  The most interesting aspect of Menser’s resume is his banjo playing, and he is a member of a local Bluegrass Band, the Oly Mountain Boys.  He demonstrated this skill while riding in the back of a pickup truck during the Swede Days Parade and elsewhere in Thurston County.

Steve Segall – an attorney disbarred for fraud by the Colorado Supreme Court is one of Tye Menser’s supporters and donors. Segall is also a local shop steward for WFSE 443

Based on his donors and endorsers to his campaign, Menser is the chosen favorite of Thurston County’s Gang Green crowd.  Former Thurston County Commissioner Karen Valenzuela donated to his campaign.  Current Tumwater City Mayor and Department of Ecology employee Pete Kmet donated to Menser.  Most of the local government unions donated several thousand dollars to his campaign, as did local Democrat / Union activist Steven Segall – an attorney disbarred in Colorado for fraud and hired at Washington’s Dept. Social Health Services to help the most vulnerable and supervise their union PAC.  Steve Kline, former political director to JZ Knight has endorsed Menser as well, so it is safe to assume Ramtha (the 35,000 year old warrior spirit channeled by JZ Knight) has probably chosen Menser while projecting through space and time.  Menser, unlike the 2016 Democratic candidate crew of Cooper and Hulse has wisely not taken cash from JZ Knight/Ramtha yet.

JZ Knight claims to Channel Ramtha – a 35,000 year old Lemurian warrior spirit.  Tye appears to be her/its guy too.

Menser has made two interesting policy claims during his campaign this year.  The first is that the Thurston County Commissioners have been dealing with financial problems, and he could do a better job.  There are financial problems in Thurston County, and Menser was silent about them for six years while his friends and donors ran the show.  However, I am reluctant to criticize anyone, particularly a Democrat, for pointing out financial challenges in local government.  Fiscal responsibility has been a challenge for many years in Thurston County, and if Menser just recently discovered these financial challenges – legacies of his donors and friends – this author welcomes his newfound discovery.

Pocket Gophers Are Now Taxed
A pocket gopher and local rodent. Former Commissioners paved the way for it to be listed as “endangered” and therefore a good excuse to steal property from rural landowners.

The second policy claim Menser has made is in regards to the Pocket Gopher fiasco – an endangered species scam which was invented and supported by Menser’s donors, and now he claims he actually could “solve” it.  Where has he been for the past eight years?  Completely silent or supportive of his friends who created this silly, pointless fiasco in the first place. 

It defies common sense and logic to believe Menser would be anything but a creature of those who support him in his current political campaign.  If elected, he would be certain to follow in the footsteps of Sandra Romero and Karen Valenzuela and their egregiously incompetent mis-management of the courthouse and their hostile abuse of the rural residents of Thurston County.  Playing the banjo is cool, but it isn’t enough to impress us rural hicks, no matter how much we might enjoy listening to the Soggy Bottom Boys in  “O Brother Where art Thou?”

Bud Blake – the incumbent, taking on all challengers

Former Thurston County Commissioner Karen Valenzuela was defeated by Bud Blake in 2014

Incumbent Commissioner Bud Blake has a competitive political race on his hand, even if he comes out of the primary in first position.  Despite the lack of coherence on the part of his challengers – their primary critique seems to include some variation of accusations that Blake is a secret Republican and a palpable annoyance that he isn’t part of the traditional Olympia establishment.

Former Commissioner Valenzuela left a lot of messes behind

I strongly supported Blake when he ran against Valenzuela in 2014.  I particularly liked his military career, and felt that Thurston County’s high percentage of veterans could benefit from a fellow vet in office.  Commissioner Valenzuela was a spectacular disaster in office and a laugh line about Thurston County for the rest of the state.  Her infamous efforts to “invent the law” in the Maytown lawsuit case was just one example.  Her deposition from that lawsuit was used in some legal classes as examples of what not to say in a deposition.  Her attempted sabotage of the Chehalis River Basin flood control district created substantial ill will with neighboring Lewis and Grays Harbor County communities.  The residents of Thurston County will be paying the price for her incompetent tenure for many years.

Despite my support, I have disagreed with Commissioner Blake on several issues.  I would strongly support a much more aggressive approach at reducing senior staff in several departments in the county.  (For example, the harmful and destructive “legal counsel” Elizabeth Petrich, assigned by Prosecutor Jon Tunheim to provide legal advice to the Commission is terrible and must be replaced.  We will never know how much damage she has created for the county and this Commission – no surprise – she donated to Menser.  She has been conflicted in this position for years).  I would support a far more aggressive posture against the obvious absurdity of the pocket gopher fiasco invented by Gang Green and proselytized by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (and all the grant grifters involved in this cash grab).  I did not support the 2017 purchase of a building by the county (and I believe the county paid too much).

Blake has had some successes and made progress on the Thurston County Commission.  From this author’s perspective the following are the highlights:

  • Sold four surplus county buildings to businesses, so these properties are generating value to the community and tax dollars since they are back on the tax roll.  They are no longer money pits.
  • Fired three department heads who were terrible and needed to go.
  • Improved Thurston County’s bond rating from AA to AAA.
  • Created county’s new biennium budget, which streamlines costs and make the process more predictable.
  • Opened the previously empty ARC jail facility, which had been sitting newly built and vacant for 5 years.
  • Opened the permit assistance center for longer hours than the previous limited hours had been open to the public before.
  • Has negotiated and reduced some of the original delusional proposals related to the pocket gopher inspection scam.
  • Hired more deputies and corrections officers – which has had an impact on public safety.
  • Reduced some of the overt hostility and nastiness exhibited by the planning department.

Blake has been on the commission for three and a half years now.  The first two years were particularly thankless, as he was often the lone vote against the excesses and harmful policies of Romero and Wolfe on their path of policy and fiscal destruction as they left the Courthouse.  Since the 2016 election, Blake finally had the opportunity to work together with fellow independent commissioners and while they have disagreed on some issues, this commission is no longer aggressively hostile and abusive towards property owners and small businesses.  They are also less likely to squander taxpayer funds on silly boondoggles.  This commission could use more help critiquing the proposals served by senior staff on occasion, and they need to question and challenge staff more assertively than they do now, but the improvement from the previous decade of clownish buffoonery at the courthouse is significant and notable.

The last batch of Thurston County Commissioners deserve to be recognized for all they achieved.

The voters in Thurston County are familiar with Blake.  Despite what his critics say, it is challenging for them to claim he is a mini-Trump, and they just lose more credibility every time they make that claim.

The results in August will give Thurston County voters a pretty good sense of what the next Commission is likely to look like.  Bud Blake still appears to be the best choice for Thurston County.  Rural residents of Thurston County in particular would be hurting themselves voting for the challengers.  Nobody who cares about fiscal responsibility, government accountability, and reducing the active hostility of local government entities against local citizens would choose to vote for these challengers.  However, this is Thurston County, so we will be watching the results very closely.



Related articles for reference and background:

Thurston County Democrats charged $27,000 for breaking law, exposing contagion of illegality

How did the Democrats lose Thurston County?

Steven Segall – Colorado Supreme Court 2005 disbarment decision – fraud

Rural Voters lost Trust in County Government

Local County election results preview state-wide political trends

The Olympian – silly endorsement of Hulse and Cooper

Emmett – local OlyBlog – Four things to think about the 2016 Thurston County commission races (2014 all over again, sort of)

Emmett – local OlyBlog – How Bud Blake Won in Thurston County

Emmett – local OlyBlog – Well, look at that, it really was a south county revolution

Ken’s Corner – End of an era draws near (another perspective on the Thurston elections)

Ken’s Corner – Changes coming to county government

Green Pages – Did high turnout in South County Make the key Difference?

County Commission Candidates Both Say they are upset by robocalls

County Commission Race Turns Ugly with PAC-funded Robocalls and Mailers

Last week it was a death threat – this week he is getting sued for election Robocalls

Man investigated for death threat told deputy he was “fed up” after robocall

Lawsuit filed against Property Rights Activist over Robocalls

The Truth about Jim Cooper

Five candidates battle for Thurston Commissioner Seat, but who are they?

Thurston County goes independant – first time in state history

Thurston County Auditor bends rules to help Allen Miller (and Jim Cooper)

Thurston County punishes rural serfs again

Sandra Romero – the $200 million Commissioner

Recent elections in Thurston County shock the establishment

How Bud Blake won in Thurston County

Democrats take $50k gift from warrior spirit Ramtha, despite anti-Mexican slurs

Thurston County invents $42,000 gopher tax for new homeowners

Progressives Today – Have you paid your gopher tax?

Thurston County discovers new cash cow in the Crap Tax

Thurston County wants to enforce another illegal tax on rural residents