Local elections during a Presidential election year are typically ignored by political commentators. However, they are often strong indicators of future political trends. In Washington State, there are some interesting local primary election results that appear to demonstrate voter frustration with politics as usual. Here is an analysis of a handful of these races around the state. This article looks at Thurston, Douglas, Spokane, Clark, Pacific, and Grays Harbor counties.
Thurston County – changing of the old political guard
The primary results from earlier this month had few surprises to political observers, but they do reinforce the fact that significant changes are coming to local politics. If the primary trends continue into the general election – it appears that the Thurston County Democrat party will no longer control the Thurston County Commission. Interestingly enough, neither will the Republicans.
The Thurston County Commission has often been dominated by establishment politicians – often former state legislators. County Commissioner Cathy Wolfe is finishing up her last year as county commissioner – a position she has held since 2000, after serving eight years as a Democrat legislator from the 22nd Legislative district. County Commissioner Sandra Romero is finishing up her last year – a position she has held since 2008, after serving twelve years as a Democrat legislator from the 22nd district as well. Romero had originally been forced to resign from the state legislature after an embarrassing DUI conviction for driving the wrong way on I-5 and attempting to elude police in Olympia. Before that Romero had served on the Olympia City Council and as a Granite Falls School Director.
In 2014, the political recipe for becoming an elected county commissioner in Thurston County was changed with the election of independent Bud Blake who defeated incumbent Karen Valenzuela in a surprising upset despite Valenzuela’s strong Democratic Party support. Karen Valenzuela had been a former Tumwater City Council Member, and Commissioner Bud Blake had no prior elected experience. Commissioner Bud Blake was also outspent, and his election still causes anxiety within the political establishment as they repeatedly analyze the 2014 District 3 commissioner election results.
This year’s primary results point towards the very likely outcome ofseeing former Thurston County Sheriff Gary Edwards becoming the next Thurston County Commissioner from District 2. Edwards received almost 60% support in the primary election, and while the general election will cover the entire county rather than
just District 2, his support, volunteers, and fundraising efforts continue to grow. Even with his opponent getting financial support from JZ Knight (aka “Ramtha,” a 35,000 year old Lemurian warrior who has travelled through space and time to control JZ Knight and ensure she supports the Thurston County Democrat party with large donations). Edwards path to the commission seems likely. He is running as an independent.
In District 1, the Olympia political establishment has coronated Jim Cooper, current Olympia City Councilman to fill the last seat, but his path to power is not as clear as anticipated considering his anemic support in the primary. Cooper will be facing off against independant John Hutchings, who squeaked out a second place finish in a 5-person crowded primary field. This race will be bitter and aggressive, but if Hutchings wins in November this will be the first time in history when all three partisan positions are occupied by politically unaffiliated officials. Political parties seem to be losing their value in Thurston County.
Douglas County – Incumbents have lost public support
In District 2, it looks like the incumbent Douglas County Commissioner, Dale Snyder is trailing the challenger Kyle Steinburg, which is a sign that local residents might be waking up to the strange and bizarre financial shenanigans of the incumbent commissioners. We wrote about the problems with strange property sales, missing capital assets, and other strange happenings here, here, and here. All the candidates who made it through the primary self-identify as Republicans, so these races are less about partisan preference than about the political leadership each candidate can offer. The incumbents are falling short. In District 1, the incumbent is not running, but his endorsed supporter, Pat Haley had 47% support in a 3-way run-off.
It is rare to see incumbents lose reelection in Douglas County, so these election results are more significant than they might appear at first.
Pacific County – Challengers are a sign of partisan changes and lack of trust in the establishment
Pacific County has been reliably supporting the Democratic Party politicians since the 1930s. Culturally, the district is rural and appears to be fairly conservative. It could be that the political winds are catching up with the political culture. Incumbent Pacific County Commissioner Steven Rogers is trailing challenger candidate Lisa Olsen who is running as a Republican in this District 1 race. In District 2, the political battle is between Democrats, challenger Fred Hill and incumbent Frank Wolfe but the challenger is only a few votes behind the incumbent.
Among other scandals in this county, the long term abusive reign of Central Planner Faith Taylor-Eldred has created friction between local residents and the elected officials who are theoretically tasked with managing their staff. This planner was exceptionally hostile and aggressive towards local businesses like Oysterville Sea Farms. Meanwhile she openly violating environmental rules herself when she installed a pump in a salmon stream to irrigate her own yard. The Pacific County Commissioners repeatedly turned a blind eye to staff infections like this in the bureaucracy. However, with the recent welcome resignation of this planner, local residents are hopeful that a new direction is in the future.
Grays Harbor – Trending independant and more conservative
All politics may be local. In Grays Harbor County, they have been
largely dominated by the local Democrat Party machine. Like neighbor Pacific County, this community has been reliably supportive of Democrat politicians, but culturally it has been rural and trending conservative. In 2012, current commissioner Wes Cormier won an upset election as one of the first Republicans to hold a Commision seat. His reelection seems likely this year as he soundly beat the combined vote totals of both Democrat challengers. Additionally, the other Commissioner incumbent was Frank Gordon who had recruited one of Cormier’s challengers, but Gordon was soundly beat by “no party” candidate Randy Ross. Ross won over 60% of the primary vote, which doesn’t bode well for Gordon’s reelection efforts. Incumbent Commissioner Vickie Raines is also an unaffiliated independent. Assuming Ross wins his race, it looks like Gray’s Harbor could be another county with a majority of elected officials who are formally unaffiliated with either the Democrat or Republican Party. .
Spokane County – Insurgent challenger changes dynamics of county commission
The primary race for the District 1 Commissioner seat, Republican challenger Josh Kerns handily defeated incumbent Republican Nancy McLaughlin in a three way primary. Kerns will be facing off against Democrat candidate Candace Mumm (current Spokane City Council Member) in the most populous Commission County in Washington State in November. Spokane County tends to elect Republicans as commissioners, so Kerns has the wind at his back in this political race. However, defeated incumbent McLaughlin was strongly supported by the establishment political class. Kerns will have to demonstrate the ability to attract her supporters in the general. This outcome was not predicted by many of the local political observers. It may appear to be intramural political confrontation from the outside, but Kerns is going to be one of the younger commissioners in recent Spokane County history.
Clark County – The winds of change have been stopped for now. Reforms will be reversed.
In Clark County, Incumbent Councilor David Madore was soundly defeated in the primary. As we discussed here, here, and here Clark County has some serious problems, and the total war on David Madore was impressive and unprecedented in Washington State. The message sent by the political establishment of Clark County to any would-be government reformers is to shut-up, be quiet, and go away. This bodes poorly for the future of the Clark County Council and, more importantly, the residents who live there. After the hubbub of the 2016 elections die down, and David Madore goes back to being a private citizen, it looks like the bureaucracy and political establishment can settle back into the cozy, comfortable corruption that gave Clark County the C-TRAN fiasco, the Columbia River Crossing scam, plans to toll the bridges, and whatever schemes the central planners cook up next. It appears that the internal purges of government staff is in full swing by the senior bureaucrats. It should take a few years before this becomes obvious to everyone except the local newspaper editor.
Few observers expect David Madore to go quietly into the night with nary a whimper. There is general curiosity about what he chooses to do next with his free time. Madore is a reformer who has battled government abuse from the outside, experienced the challenges of reforming it from the inside, and who has the resources to do some good in the future. He clearly made mistakes, but there is some suspicion that the Hate Madore crowd including the trinket-selling local paper – the Columbian will need to work overtime to justify and cover up the inevitable declines and scandals over the next few years.
In conclusion, local politics are often impacted as much by the individual personalities and issues uniquely found there as they are by any partisan influence. However, it is possible to extrapolate some trends from these and other local races around Washington State. The shift in rural voting to more closely align the independent, rural cultural conservatism with more independent, conservative politicians is inevitable. This trend is likely to push upwards into the state representative races as well. This has been particularly pronounced in rural districts like the 2nd (Pierce/Thurston), the 35th (Mason/Thurston/Kitsap), the 31st (King/Pierce) and now the 19th (Cowlitz/Pacific/Grays Harbor/Wahkaikum/Lewis).
Partisan lockstep politics is becoming less important than a focus by local candidates on the issues that actually matter to the people who live there. Incumbents who fail to understand these facts will eventually lose their political positions regardless of their political affiliation. As the Clark County example also illustrates, the establishment will fight back when their power is threatened by anyone who is different. This year’s elections at the local level will be directly impactful to local residents, and it will influence the balance of power in the state legislature. It is worth paying attention, even if you don’t live there.
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…
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