The final election results are official in Thurston County, and it is clear that dramatic political change has arrived. The Thurston County Commission, in a span of two years has flipped from total control by Leftist leaning Democrat Commissioners to a full slate of Independent, freedom oriented Commissioners. How could this have happened?
The 2014 election of Independent Thurston County Commissioner Bud Blake was supposed to be a fluke. We were told it was a one time event that only happens when the perfect political storm arrives. Thurston County Commissioner Karen Valenzuela had made political enemies on her own side of the partisan divide. She upset the unions. Bud Blake was an unknown – a military transplant from the deep south who normally would not be Thurston County Commissioner were it not for an off-year election with low voter turn-out from the voters in the City of Olympia. After Bud Blake’s surprisingly decisive victory, the Thurston County Democrats would not be surprised next time. They promised to not let this happen again.
Now, with the election of Gary Edwards and John Hutchings as Thurston County’s next commissioners in decisive election victories for both seats, various theories are being floated by our friends on the Left to explain what just happened. Let’s look at these theories and see how this could have happened.
There was no Trump wave in Thurston County
Nobody seriously has floated this theory yet, but in case someone less familiar with Thurston County attempts to make the claim that a rising tide of Trump lifted other political boats in Thurston County, let’s end that myth now. Trump received 37.57% of the vote in Thurston County with 48,624 votes. Clinton easily won Thurston with 53.16% with the 68,798 votes she received. (Interestingly, there were about 7,000 Thurston County voters who voted, but didn’t cast a vote in the presidential race). Both Independent Commissioner candidates received more votes than Trump – 61,868 for Hutchings and 65,500 for Edwards. This means that some of the Clinton voters decided that the Democrat offerings for county commissioner were unpalatable and voted for the independants.
Voter participation wasn’t a problem
Thurston County’s voter turnout was at 77.66%, which is slightly under the state average this year at 78.76%. Washington State has averaged higher voter turnout in the past including 81% and 84% in the past two presidential elections. However, this is still respectable by historic standards. According to most observers, voter turnout was high in both the rural (typically more conservative) and the urban Olympia core (reliably more Leftist).
Low voter turnout was one of the arguments used to justify Commissioner Bud Blake’s election in 2014, but it was no excuse this cycle. The voters turned out in large numbers and rejected the Democrat offerings for the County Commissioner seats. This is particularly impressive because over 9,000 new voters registered to vote, and the Republicans were certainly not pushing this voter registration drive in Thurston County. Either the Democrats registered a bunch of new voters to vote Independant instead of Democrat, or the large volume of newly registered voters couldn’t make up for the deficit of support which existed for the Democrat commissioner candidates.
Democrats had more cash, but it wasn’t enough
According to the Public Disclosure Commission reports, the Democrat candidates outspent their independent opponents. This is true for most races, and it was equally true again this year. Gary Edwards was a strong fundraiser, but even he was outspent by Hulse’s campaign. Jim Cooper outspent Hutchings roughly 2 to 1. Additionally, the Thurston County Democratic Party was flush with cash – much of it from JZ Knight (the largest cash donor to local politics in the history of Thurston County). On top of this overwhelming cash advantage, the Democrats benefitted from the Ramtha Political Action Committee – Thurston County’s own Super PAC, euphemistically called “People for Thurston County.” This Super PAC was also funded by JZ Knight and run by political insider Jay Manning (former head of the Department of Ecology and former Governor Gregoire’s Chief of Staff). On the Independant side of the political scene were some Robocalls funded by “Friends of Jimmy PAC” and some support mailers. When it came to campaign funding, there was no comparison – the Democrats had the advantage.
Unions mostly lined up behind the Democrats
One argument to explain former Commissioner Karen Valenzuela’s loss to Blake in 2014 was that she had offended the unions when she voted to outsource the janitorial staff positions in 2013. This post-election lesson was one both Jim Cooper and Kelsey Hulse understood well, and they worked overtime to enlist the support of almost every public sector union in the county. With a few minor exceptions, all the union support, money, and free labor went to help the Democrats campaign. The union bosses were firmly entrenched on their side. Everyone from SEIU to the Firefighters joined in lockstep behind the Democrats. In the end, their support didn’t make a difference.
The endorsement game – Democrats dominated
There was no shortage of endorsements from elected politicians, political insiders and the urban elite for the Democrat candidates. Both Cooper and Hulse were aggressive at corralling political endorsements from the start and their campaign websites listed large volumes of these names. Jim Cooper even made the extra effort to call and threaten anyone who dared to endorse his opponent – even to the point that some felt bullied into changing their endorsements. Regardless of the methods, however, there was no shortage of politicians lining up to support the Democrat’s chosen ones. Predictably, the local declining-circulation newspaper – the Olympian also endorsed the Democrat anointed candidates as the Olympian always does. Cooper and Hulse did not lose for lack of political endorsements.
Democrat political campaigns were run to win
Although there has been much talk of a political “coronation” for Jim Cooper by Democrat Party insiders, there was no obvious campaign indication that the Democrat candidates were taking the race for granted. Both candidates were well coached on the issues and capable public speakers.
They showed up at most public forums and events, and presented themselves adequately while there. In Cooper’s case, he had been in public office enough to be familiar with some of the issues and he had a lot of public exposure from both being on the Olympia City Council, a former chair of the Thurston County Democrats, and for attempting to restart the failed (and now dormant) Thurston County Charter effort. They had volunteers doorbell for them and at least door belled some homes in the county themselves. Additionally, they used their campaign funds to produce mailings, advertise, and reach voters. It is always possible to nitpick even the best run campaigns after they lose, but there were no glaring and obvious failings here. These were serious candidates running capable campaigns making an effort to win a local political race. Historically, this is all Democrat candidates would need to win a political campaign in Thurston County.
There was no major Republican opposition
While the Republican Party is the obvious boogeyman for Democrats, it is not believable that they organized some type of Rovian stealth campaign to put Hutch and Edwards over the top. First, while it is true that the Republicans of Thurston County most certainly voted for both Independent candidates, the local Republican Party had nobody in the Commission race running under their brand. Their local efforts were mostly focused on helping other Republican campaigns like the various legislators in the 35th and 2nd district and most of the activists were engaged in other Republican races (including Trump’s campaign). Jim Cooper had bragged at the 2013 State Democrat Crab Feed that Thurston County basically didn’t even have a Republican Party to speak of. In hindsight, it appears he was exaggerating, but the Republican Party is not to blame for the downfall of the Democrat County Commissioner candidates.
Why did the Democrats lose Thurston County?
The Democrats lost the Thurston County Commission to Gary Edwards and John Hutchings because their policies as defined by Sandra Romero, Kathy Wolfe, and Karen Valenzuela were failures. More than just failures. They were a fiasco of incompetence and hostility towards the residents of Thurston County. Despite the serial failings, the demonstrated incompetence, and the nasty arrogance, the Thurston County Democrats supported their every move. The political elite didn’t notice. JZ Knight and the 35,000 year old warrior spirit named Ramtha she claims to channel didn’t notice. However, the people who had to suffer from these failed policies noticed, and they remembered in November.
The litany of hostile policies and incompetence is too long to contain in a short article, but just the highlights should have been enough to raise red flags somewhere in the Democrat Party:
- The proposed $42,000 pocket gopher tax and weird gopher fetish by the Thurston County Planning Department
- The 5 year empty jail built against the will of the people.
- The $12 million Maytown lawsuit loss – completely avoidable
- The 3400 building fiasco – spending $8 million and 18 years to make a $4 million building be worth $2 million
- The crap tax on septic systems
- The proposed rural car tax
- Title 26 – criminalizing minor code infractions
- The attempt to ban fireworks
- The proposed no shooting ordinance
- The plastic bag ban (and then botching the bag ban survey)
- Attempting to pass a budget that didn’t even mathematically add up, multiple times.
- Repeatedly ignoring pleas from rural residents to be left alone
None of these were concerns to the Democratic Party and they cheered every step the Commissioners took. No policy was too harsh. No failure too big. Nothing mattered but supporting the commissioners in their incompetence and nasty policies. While the political elite in Olympia assume the people are too stupid to know what is good for them, the voters realized it was the political elite – led by the Democrats in Thurston County who didn’t understand. This nastiness was perfectly encapsulated in the following quote from an email sent to former Democrat Olympia City Councilwoman Karen Rogers from an Olympia Thurston County Democrat party official after she recorded a message on a robocall about Jim Cooper:
“With that in mind, I am glad that you are not in the democratic party any longer as you will just slow us down. I do not agree with you that we should not regulate environmental destroyers. We need to enforce the regulations and if they ask for forgiveness, we give it to them when they are in jail or paying their fines. We no longer have time to wait for your type of compromises. We don’t have time for apologists. Do not write to me again.”
Nice. This is the attitude that the voters of Thurston County rejected in November, and only one local party is exhibiting this behavior. Nasty, vicious, overbearing, arrogant, elitist attitudes were well represented by Thurston County Commissioners Romero, Wolfe, and Valenzuela. Now they are gone, and they probably won’t get the credit they deserve for the political change we have witnessed.
The blame game has already began. Inter-party squabbling will consume the Democrat Party for a while as they blame the candidates, the local party chair, Trump, the Koch Brothers, and the Freedom Foundation. However, in the end, the Democrat political leadership and policies in Thurston County created this inevitable result. Nobody expects policy introspection to be a priority for the county party, but they have nobody to blame but themselves.
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…
Related articles for reference and background:
Ken’s Corner – End of an era draws near (another perspective on the Thurston elections)