Two Thurston County Commissioner seats are up for election this cycle (2023), the results of which will have a significant impact on the residents of Thurston County (where I live). In this article I will address the Thurston County Commissioner race in district 4 (my district), and the differences between the two candidates who have filed for that office.
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Essentially, this election for Thurston County Commission District 4 is a battle between two candidates, Vivian Eason and Wayne Fournier. I believe the balance of power in Thurston County tends to oscillate between those friendly to the residents/taxpayers of Thurston County and those who want to bloat the county government grift with no end in sight. I have publicly endorsed Vivian Eason, both in speaking at her kick-off event earlier in the year, and also with donations to her campaign. However, when making endorsements, I believe it is important to explain why I have made this endorsement and provide the background and evidence I have used to get here.
Later in this article, I provide background on the history of why we are having a special election for the newly created District 4 seat in south Thurston County in the first place, and I also explain some of the issues that the elected officials of Thurston County will need to address over the next few years and the obvious reasons why we want good people representing us in these elected positions, but for now, let me explain my endorsement.
First, my caveat paragraph, as always, when discussing political endorsements. I fully understand and know full well that politicians are human and fallible just like everyone. Perfection is impossible. In fact, I’d argue, due to the special-interest pressures, and the critical decisions they inevitably must make in their elected positions, they often will be placed in situations where choices are only between bad and worse. This is more frequent than most people realize. Even local politicians often occupy their elected positions inheriting both the good and bad decisions of those who have gone before. The decisions they will make while filling that elected seat must be made to benefit everyone in our community and not just reward select insiders and special interests. Due to the dilemma of distributed costs and concentrated benefits associated with the decisions they will make – we seek to elect people of good character who are capable of resisting the inevitable pressure of special interests while retaining the humility to understand they must seek to govern in a way beneficial to the people who live outside city boundaries in the county.
Secondly, the Thurston County Commissioners are making decisions that most significantly impact the residents of Thurston County, like me, who do not live in the cities. Our County has a concentration of people who live in urban environments in Olympia, Lacey, and Tumwater (and to a less dramatic extent in Yelm, Tenino, and Bucoda). We have chosen to not live in the cities for a reason. We don’t want to live in the city. We want to be left alone by those who, for example, enjoy driving the City of Olympia into the ground with self-immolating crazy policies. Thurston County voters elect and expect to have county commissioners who are capable of distinguishing and understanding this fact. However, roughly half the votes for the Thurston County Commissioner positions will, during the general election in November come from city residents largely unaffected by the policies, corruption, and whims of county governance.
Finally, Thurston County has experienced some pathetic and terrible people occupying the office of County Commissioner in recent years. The miserable occupation of these offices by the trio – Romero, Valenzuela, and Wolfe for many years led to deserved distrust of the county governance (as I’ve written about many times over the years – see here, here, here, here, and here). In the end, this led to election changes in 2014, and 2016 (see here, here, and here).
Thurston County Commissioner Tye Menser (District 3) known as “Tye the High Tax Guy,” who was recently re-elected last year is a regressive throwback to an earlier era of incompetence, corruption, and pandering to the special interests of Olympia without a clue or concern for the damage his choices make to the rural residents of Thurston County. He just doesn’t care. Thurston County Commissioner (District 2) Gary Edwards, also recently re-elected, is retiring after his current term is up – with 20 years as Sheriff under his belt and another as 8 years as Commissioner, there is no doubt his concerns for the rural residents of the county were needed and welcome after the misery of the Wolfe/Romero/Valenzuela debacle. Thurston County Commissioner (District 1) Carolina Mejia has become the recent swing vote at times and a pleasant surprise on the commission considering the special interests who supported her original election – it isn’t clear they’d support her again. The current 2023 election for the two open seats remain critical for sanity and protecting the rural residents of the county.
Why I support Vivian Eason
I supported Vivian Eason when she ran against Tye Menser last year for county commissioner (see here). She lost that election, but I continue to support her this cycle for several reasons. First, I’ve known her for over a decade, and I believe she understands the office of county commissioner very well from her years working in Emergency Management and before that in the Sheriff’s office. This inside knowledge is critical and helpful when making decisions which impact the bureaucracy and how it functions. This is particularly true because she understands how senior bureaucrats in Thurston County frequently manipulate the elected officials. She has no illusions about how this works. Secondly, she lives rurally and both her and her neighbors are directly impacted by the decisions she will make once she gets into office. She has personally experienced the results of poor policy choices and bad decisions by previous elected officials.
Why I don’t support Wayne Fournier
I don’t support Wayne Fournier for Thurston County Commission seat for a variety of reasons, but this doesn’t mean I hate the guy. I supported his original election as Mayor of the City of Tenino, which is near where I live, and which has long suffered under a series of strange mayors and scandals. One thing I appreciated about Wayne Fournier was the fact he followed through with supporting the Tenino Food Bank where I served on the board. However, like anyone who begins to create a legacy once they hold political office, this legacy and history tells a story, and I don’t believe that story would support him as the optimal choice for the next Thurston County Commissioner.
First, unfortunately, Mr. Fournier has a temper that really causes him avoidable problems. In the small city of Tenino the drama can be very personal, but it is also minor league compared to what the Thurston County Commission will demand. Repeatedly, when I spoke to people who work with Fournier, the statements about him being a hothead are common even to the point of physical violence (see here, and here). This becomes a real problem when you get into a bigger pressure cooker of corruption and influence like Thurston County government. The assault charges he was able to expunge by a diversion program in court, which makes those records harder to review today. However, this type of behavior almost inevitably leads to future avoidable scandals, or it becomes grist for insiders to hold over his head to blackmail him into making bad decisions. Neither scenario bodes well for the rural residents of Thurston County.
Secondly, Fournier has apparently joined forces with some of the least savory elements of the Olympia political crowd. Several of his donors – Olympia City Councilman Jim Cooper (see here), Joe Hyer (see here, here, and here), and others represent the worst grifters the City of Olympia has to offer and would indicate that they believe they can clearly manipulate Mr. Fournier into doing their bidding. This would be harmful and disastrous for the rural residents of Thurston County, although select insiders could probably profit from this. Background and source documents on campaign contributions can be found here and here.
Thirdly, it appears that under Fournier’s leadership in Tenino, the disappearance of $300,000 from a small city’s coffers (apparently by a con of some type) does not indicate a level of sophistication needed when reviewing the much larger (and more complicated) budgets of Thurston County with far more capable cons and grifts in constant operation. Fournier will not be cleaning up the problems he inherits. Unfortunately, his past behavior indicates he will be unaware of them at best, or enable them at worst considering some of the early donors and supporters indicated above.
Fourthly, Fournier has recently taken credit for opposing the Violent Sex Offender release program for South Thurston County, and it was great he finally jumped on the bandwagon once it became so popular, but his initial response was to ignore this issue and claim it was “outside his jurisdiction” which also was shocking to many of the people engaged at the time. This also concerns me because frequently the aloof and distant commissioners like Tye Menser choose to ignore the harm (or even actively celebrate it) they do to rural residents of Thurston County while only surrounding themselves with the corrupt insiders who plan to profit from their largess. This makes Fournier very likely to be part of the corrupt crew that flocks to these political scenes in Thurston County. We really need Thurston County Commissioners who are not willing to be corrupt and who are willing to oppose staff schemes.
I have a lot of source documents, as I usually collect when doing this type of article. Some of these are from the nasty divorce Fournier had a few years back. There is nothing like a nasty divorce to produce ugly source documents, and I don’t tend to place a lot of stock in the threats or motion practice filed by the attorneys at the time. The mutual restraining orders, and the fights over money tend to get tedious and mind-numbing to outsiders who read them. The emotion and anger often generated by the experience are typically ugly as well. The divorce was acrimonious, but many divorces are. However, the tax lien judgement for $7k is probably more significant since this debt wasn’t accurately reflected in his Financial Affairs document which he was required to file a few months ago. I’ve filed a complaint with the Public Disclosure Commission about that deficiency and failure to follow the law. I don’t blame Fournier for fighting the State of Washington over taxes, but he does have to be transparent about the debt.
I’ve linked some helpful source documents below including background articles if people want to come to their own conclusions. We need the best people we can find to be in the county commissioner seats, and for me it wasn’t hard to choose Vivian Eason over Wayne Fournier.
Why do we have to elect two more County Commissioners in Thurston County?
Let’s explain some of the recent history that has put us in this place where we have Thurston County Commissioner races in an off year like this in the first place.
Thurston County Commission expands from three to five Commissioners
Traditionally, most of the 39 Washington State counties are represented at the executive and legislative level by three elected county commissioners (See WA State Constitution Art.11, section5). However, the Washington State Constitution also allows a “Home Rule Charter” option of local governance at the county level (See WA State Constitution Art.11, section 4). This home rule charter option was created by an amendment to the State Constitution In 1948. To date, 7 counties have chosen to organize under this “Home Rule Charter” structure. I’ve written about this in the past (see here, here, and here). In general I am opposed to a Home Rule Charter form of government for counties because two things always happen when this local governance road is chosen. First, taxes ALWAYS go up, and secondly, related to that, the debt and bloated size of the bureaucracy ALWAYS goes up. However, the groups who push for home rule governance always promote this structural change promising something very different, yet that is where they always end up. I will point out that the only exception to this rule has been the tiny county of Clallam, which originally went down the home rule charter road believing they could escape the worst of the abuses of Olympia, but discovered they were not able to opt out as much as they thought.
Many counties have considered, and rejected the Home Rule Charter pipedream over the years, and the frustration of these repeated failures is, I believe, what led to changes in the statute over the years to allow an expansion of the Executive/Legislative Commission structure of County Governance for larger counties. So, over the past ten years or so, these changes require commission counties with populations of over 400,00 to expand the commission from three to five members (RCW 36.32.052), to allow the voters in a county to approve an expansion of the county commission to five members (RCW 36.32.055), or even to allow the voters to petition to expand their commission to five members (RCW 36.23.055–.058). Thurston County voted in 2022 to expand the commission to five members in 2022 (see election results here). At the time, I advocated against this, but I also recognized that expanding the commission was a better choice than going down the overhyped, always underdelivering “Home Rule Charter” path.
So, because of this vote in 2022, Thurston County has a special election in 2023 for the two new seats on the Thurston County Commission. Position 4 mostly encompasses the southern portion of the rural parts of Thurston County. Normally, Commissioners serve four-year terms. To maintain staggered elections, the 2023 election for this position is for a one-year term only, so voters will again be voting for this position in 2024. The other new position 5 race is for a five-year term, which will become a four-year term after the next election for that same position.
Haunted by the Ghosts of Commissioners Past
Originally, when I began this article I was going to elaborate on the challenges facing the current Thurston County Commission. I believe this article has become long enough. I think it best to address these current and future challenges with the attention and detail it deserves in a future article. Some of the details might surprise you, but the general themes will be consistent as we have covered Thurston County trials and tribulations for many years now. They deserve another, closer look.
OUR CONSTITUTION BEGINS WITH THE PHRASE “WE THE PEOPLE.” IT WAS THE FOUNDERS’ 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…