The Olympian's 2013 Election Endorsements

OlympianOctober 23, 2013 

The Olympian editorial board interviewed candidates for most local elected positions. Here are our endorsements for those races, and the two statewide ballot initiatives.

Thurston County Auditor – Gary Alexander

In Thurston County, the auditor plays an important and multi-faceted role. First and foremost, the auditor is the county’s chief financial officer, as well as its chief elections officer, its licensing agent and the county recorder of all real estate documents.

The Thurston County auditor’s office has set a high standard for the state’s other 38 counties, having received the Government Finance Officers Association award for excellence in financial reporting eight times, six of those consecutively since 2006. Most counties have never received the award.

Other counties hold the Thurston office in high esteem for that reason, and because the last two auditors – Sam Reed and Kim Wyman – have gone on to become Washington’s secretary of state. When Wyman was elected to statewide office last year, the County Commission appointed Deputy Auditor Gary Alexander to the position on an interim basis until this fall’s election.

Mary Hall is challenging Alexander for the position, and whoever wins must run again next year for a full four-year term.

Due to challenging economic conditions in the near-term, the county will benefit from experienced and strong financial management. For that reason, The Olympian editorial board endorses Gary Alexander.

Alexander vs. Hall

The County Commission made a wise choice in appointing Gary Alexander to fill the vacancy created by Wyman’s election to state office. He is exceptionally qualified with 12 years experience as the county’s deputy auditor, 25 years as a budget and program manager in state government, and time in the private sector as a chief financial officer and industrial engineer.

As the manager of the county’s financial services, he deserves credit for the unprecedented, in this state, string of national recognition awards for excellence in financial management.

Thurston County’s finances haven’t always been in such good shape. As the recession ate away at the county’s reserves in 2008, Alexander proposed 14 principles for good fiscal health that commissioners adopted in 2009. The measures swelled county reserves from $6.5 million to $18.4 million in 2011.

We’re concerned that county spending is again exceeding revenue, and that commissioners will dip too deeply into its general fund reserves. Having an experienced financial officer in the auditor’s office is essential.

Challenger Mary Hall is a good candidate with strong technical skills. She would apply those toward upgrading the county’s obsolete systems and innovative voting technology.

Hall also has a strong vision for partnering with schools to educate young, future voters, and instill them with a voting habit. She might also bring a warmer style to the auditor’s office.

But Hall lacks the breadth and depth of Alexander’s financial experience and all-round knowledge of the many duties of an auditor. She has served for 16 years in a narrow role as Pierce County’s elections supervisor. That’s not enough to take on the critical responsibility as the county’s chief financial officer.

Alexander has restructured the auditor’s office to reduce expenses. He eliminated his former job – deputy auditor – in order to reinstate the internal auditor position that Wyman had eliminated. Hall would have to rehire a deputy auditor because she lacks Alexander’s financial experience.

Democrats would like to wrest control of the auditor’s office from Republicans, who have had it for more than 30 years. They have seized upon a pair of minor state audit findings to undermine Alexander’s record. It’s a weak tactic that voters should ignore.

Hall makes the mistake of following the party line and charges Alexander with “negligence.” That’s a strong word in the financial world and it’s completely unwarranted here. It exposes Hall’s misunderstanding of the unqualified (less serious) audit opinion with one low-level finding.

Alexander is the best-qualified candidate for this position. He deserves an elected term, upon which voters can assess his performance again next fall.

Port Commissioner, District No. 3 – Jeff Davis

The three-member commission that oversees the Port of Olympia sets the policies and objectives that enable the port to fulfill its primary mission, which is to drive economic development in Thurston County.

Commissioners must ensure that the South Sound benefits from the jobs created by the port’s four operating divisions at Olympia Regional Airport, Swantown Marina and Boatworks, NewMarket Industrial Campus and the marine terminal.

Two of the three members of Port of Olympia Commission are up for re-election this year, but only one has drawn a challenger.

Bill McGregor is running unopposed for the second time. McGregor was appointed to the commission in 2006 and ran for election in 2007 to fill out the unexpired term of former commissioner Steve Pottle.

Jeff Davis is seeking re-election to a second term. The Olympian editorial board strongly endorses him over challenger Sue Gunn.

Davis vs. Gunn

The Port of Olympia has benefited from Jeff Davis’s knowledge of port operations. Davis, a longshoreman with Local 21 at the Port of Longview, spent his first term focused on turning around the profitability of the marine terminal, which lagged the port’s three other divisions.

Davis pushed to make the warehouse more attractive to shippers, leading the port toward reaching the highest recorded revenue in its 91-year history. In 2008, a year before Davis joined the commission, only three ships used the port’s marine terminal. This year, it is trending to 36.

Davis has played key roles in improving open-government policies and community outreach. His experienced governance and policy direction have resulted in the port’s recent financial improvements and its progress in environmental cleanups.

Challenger Sue Gunn comes with impressive environmental credentials, but does not make a compelling argument for unseating the more balanced record of incumbent Davis.

Gunn says she “hasn’t made a decision on (whether to keep) the marine terminal,” meaning she might prefer to see it closed because of her environmental perspective. That would deal an economic blow to the region and the state, which receives about $30 million per year in tax revenue from the port.

Some of Gunn’s ideas for the port are unrealistic. She suggests the port take on mass transit, such as light rail, but the region already has Intercity Transit, a multi-jurisdictional, taxpayer-subsidized agency.

She suggests the port buy some of the Tumwater brewery buildings and lease them to replace revenue from the marine terminal. That belies an ignorance of the complexities and market realities confronting the brewery, which the City of Tumwater knows all too well.

Gunn mistakenly charges that taxpayers are subsidizing Weyerhaeuser exports. Weyerhaeuser and other marine terminal customers pay fair market rate for the acreage they lease, and will soon be paying a share of the port’s new storm water system.

Gunn repeats concerns over the port’s property tax levy. It’s a misconception that tax levies pay operating expenses. The port uses tax revenue for environmental cleanup activities and to pay down bonds. All but two of the state’s 77 ports rely on a property tax levy.

The challenger has tried to imply that Davis dislikes the Olympia Farmer’s Market. It’s an untrue and unfair accusation. Davis understands the value of the market and the local jobs it creates. Supporting the market fits the port’s economic mission.

In short, we fear Gunn views the port as an intellectual exercise in social engineering, which could threaten the port’s recent positive trends.

Davis is the clear choice for voters who want to maintain the port’s profitability, expand economic development opportunities in the rural areas of the county and continue its recent improvements in government transparency.

The Olympian editorial board interviewed candidates for most local elected positions. Here are our endorsements for those races, and the two statewide ballot initiatives.

 

Lacey City Council – Cynthia R. Pratt, Michael R. Steadman and Virgil S. Clarkson

In its formative years, the City of Lacey needed commercial growth to provide the revenues required to provide and maintain myriad municipal services. Some might argue it accepted that growth at the expense of urban sprawl.

Development issues are back on the table in the 2013 general election for three seats on the City Council. Lacey has acquired a 30-year supply of water rights that could trigger substantial new development.

The city also surrounds several unincorporated areas that lack the full complement of municipal services, such as the Tanglewilde neighborhood, where some failing septic systems endanger water resources. The annexation of these islands, inevitable in the long run, is costly in the short term.

Incumbent Cynthia Pratt and challenger Michael Steadman are the best two candidates in their council races to address these and other important issues.

Virgil Clarkson, the longest-serving member of City Council, earned The Olympian’s endorsement by default. His challenger failed to show up for an interview with the board, even when given a second opportunity.

Pratt vs. Payne

In the race for Position 4, Ray Payne is a worthy candidate, but does not make a compelling case for unseating the thoughtful and effective incumbent, Cynthia Pratt.

Payne, a 21-year military veteran, has served five years on the Lacey planning commission, currently as its vice-chair. In his job in Olympia’s public works department, he has acquired knowledge of essential infrastructure around the county and built collaborative relationships with key players. His plans to engage Lacey’s large active and retired military community – starting with simple voter registration – are admirable.

Those are strong attributes that will someday land Payne a council seat. But not this year.

Pratt has a broader knowledge of land use issues acquired during her first term and in her former career as a state environmental planner. She’s a valuable source of information and leadership on growth management issues. Pratt balances her analytical mind with a practical side. Besides championing the protection of Woodland Creek, she pushed council to create a first-ever handbook of policies and procedures that improved government transparency.

We’re glad Payne serves on the city’s planning commission, but Pratt has earned a second term on City Council.

Lawson vs. Steadman

Incumbent Ron Lawson is completing an unremarkable first term that does not merit re-election. It’s time for a change.

Challenger Michael Steadman, a local business owner, is committed to making the City of Lacey a better place to raise his family. His experience on the city’s planning commission and his focus on Lacey’s key issues are reason enough to remove Lawson from office.

Besides being sometimes divisive on council, Lawson says his primary achievement in four years is starting a garden project for Boys and Girls Clubs. But that’s a community service project he could have accomplished as a citizen. It’s simply unrelated to city council business.

Steadman tends to see the world in few shades of gray.  He’s a former Marine with a get-it-done attitude. That attitude would help council move forward on certain issues, such as annexation of the Tanglewilde area. Council has known about the water and sewer problem there for decades. Steadman would push for immedidate implementation of a 10-year plan.

Clarkson vs. Morton

Virgil Clarkson, who is seeking a fifth term, is by far the most experienced member of the Lacey City Council. Clarkson has been a stately representative of Lacey during his 16-year tenure, shepherding the city through periods of incredible growth. Clarkson offers stability and valuable institutional knowledge.

Morton offers no challenge. His unresponsiveness to our editorial board is not an exception. Another key community leader with a significant stake in Lacey’s future has also been unable to contact the candidate. It’s not worth considering an elusive candidate with unknown views.

Olympia City Council – Cheryl Selby, Julie Hankins and Jim Cooper

It’s not often that a singular, defining issue determines the outcome of local elections. Controversy over whether the community wants a low-barrier shelter and where to locate it has that potential in the City of Olympia.

It’s time for the city to take strong and immediate action to save its downtown from crime, increasing drug use and discarded syringes.

All of this year’s candidates for City Council express concern about downtown, though they differ in how to prevent it. That gives voters a clear choice.

The Olympian’s editorial board has chosen to support two candidates with similar views about downtown. We are endorsing Julie Hankins and Cheryl Selby. We are also endorsing Jim Cooper, who has no serious opponent.

Hankins vs. Volz

Both candidates in this race strongly oppose a low-barrier shelter.

Challenger Mike Volz has operated his downtown auto restoration business for 12 years. He says the number of panhandlers and people sitting on the streets is growing, and they are becoming more aggressive and belligerent. Volz would redirect city funds toward more walking police patrols and the successful ambassador program.

While he has clear views on the downtown issue and represents a business voice sorely needed on council, Volz lacks the necessary city experience to succeed. In that regard, Julie Hankins is the superior candidate.

Appointed two years ago, Hankins brings 20 years of quasi-council experience working with the city’s neighborhood associations. She’s a collaborator who sometimes relies too much on process over decisiveness.

Hankins believes a shelter needs barriers, and favors rapid rehousing as the solution to the region’s homeless problems. She says shelter promoters should have held community conversations involving all stakeholders before proposing a specific location.

If Hankins can trust her opinions and her vision, she could blossom into a leader on this council. She deserves to have that opportunity with a first full-term.

Selby vs. Mills

This race offers voters a clear voice on how to improve downtown. Cheryl Selby opposes creating a low-barrier shelter downtown. Darren Mills favors it.

Since returning to Olympia in 2005, Mills has thrust himself into civic affairs through the Parking and Business Improvement Area (PBIA), currently serving as its chair. His approach to downtown – keeping it clean and safe – originates from a PBIA committee.

Although he owns a hair salon downtown, he believes a low-barrier shelter must be located in the city’s core because that’s where the need exists. He supports the right of the homeless to camp in front of city hall, and says a downtown shelter will get people off the streets.

Selby is also a business owner. She has two retail store locations, one downtown and on another on the west side. She worked for the city on two previous occasions and has 25 years of nonprofit experience.

Selby gets the edge because she recognizes the downtown is oversaturated with social services. She’s also solution-minded, and already working with others to find a shelter location outside the city’s core.

This race features two good candidates, but Selby is on the right path for downtown.

Cooper vs. Atlantis

Jim Cooper has no competition. Prophet Atlantis is not campaigning nor did he come to the editorial board. Voters elected Cooper to a two-year term, now they should give him a full term.

Tumwater City Council – Ed Hildreth and Debbie Sullivan

Three seats on the Tumwater City Council have turned over in the past year, reducing the city’s bench of experienced leadership. Newcomers now comprise nearly half of the City Council.

Voters have a chance to help rectify that situation on the November general election ballot by re-electing Ed Hildreth to a second full term and electing experienced planning commission chair Debbie Sullivan.

The revolving door in Tumwater council chambers started last December when Judith Hoefling retired. Council was rocked when popular councilman Ed Stanley died suddenly in February. The turnover continued in April when Betsy Spath announced she was moving to Arizona, and ending her four-year term a year early.

It was the remaining council members, not the voters, who filled those open seats. It’s a natural tendency for members to pick like-minded individuals. It enables a smooth transition and reduces the potential for conflict.

But that inclination isn’t always productive or in the city’s best interests. It can create a myopic collective vision blind to some options and alternatives.

Council had many capable individuals from which to choose. They picked Nicole Hill, a Nisqually Land Trust project manager, to fill Stanley’s seat, and John Way, an Olympia attorney, to replace Hoefling. Hill and Way are running unopposed this fall.

For Spath’s open seat, council selected Kyle Lucas, a government affairs consultant and freelance writer. Sullivan, who applied for all three appointments and was overlooked, is challenging Lucas.

Lucas vs. Sullivan

Sullivan would bring a fresh perspective to council, one that might beneficially challenge current thinking. That fact might have influenced council’s refusal to appointment Sullivan. They were wrong not to do so.

Her service to the city and willingness to run for office previously should have earned her one of the three open positions.

Sullivan has been deeply involved with the city’s planning commission for a decade. For the last seven years, commission members have unanimously elected her to their leadership chair.

The value of that experience is obvious. Sullivan is locked onto the key issues of zoning and land use that face Tumwater. Her solutions may differ from the rest of council, but she will expand the council’s thinking and provide a voice for an unrepresented sector of the city.

Lucas comes with a unique background of poverty and adversity, and with the experience of having served as former Gov. Gregoire’s director of the Office of Indian Affairs. She has a strong environmental background.

But she is focused on social justice issues, such as affordable housing. Those are important challenges, but not the critical ones confronting Tumwater.

Tumwater has reached its non-voted property tax cap of $3.10. Council didn’t vote to get to that point, but declining valuations took them there. Without new construction, commercial business revenues or significant rising property values, the city will encounter financial issues in the near future.

Sullivan has received endorsements from Hildreth, Hoefling and Rep. Chris Reykdahl, among others.

Sullivan, who narrowly lost to incumbent Joan Cathey in the 2011 municipal elections by 110 votes, will bring energy, a positive can-do attitude and a business background to the council. She’s by far the most knowledgeable and experience about the issues that should matter most to Tumwater voters.

Hildreth vs. Blais

Incumbent Ed Hildreth is the only serious choice in this race. Hildreth is an experienced and intelligent council member, who understands city government.

His opponent, Priscella Blais, does not present a viable alternative. She seems focused on education issues, which are unrelated to city government.

Olympia School Board, District No. 3 – Eileen Thomson

Citizens aspiring to public service have often used school boards as a springboard to other offices. Yet, despite the basic training in local governance that a seat on a school board can provide, candidates for this office frequently run unopposed.

None of the candidates for positions in the school districts of North Thurston, Griffin, Tumwater or Tenino drew challengers this year. There are only contested races in Rochester, Yelm and Olympia.

The Olympian’s editorial board interviewed candidates for the District 3 position in the Olympia School District (OSD), and we endorse the re-election of board chairman Eileen Thomson.

Thomson vs. Tomlinson

Eileen Thomson represents the ideal school board member. She has lived in the district for 25 years, and for 20 of those as a parent of two children in OSD schools. She attended school board meetings for two years before being appointed in 2008 to fill out the balance of a remaining term. She has always been an active parent volunteer.

Thomson brings a unique perspective to the school board.  She’s a mother, and the only member with a developmentally disabled child in the system. Her two children require educational environments at opposite ends of the learning spectrum: her oldest child was in gifted programs, and her youngest has special needs.

If re-elected, Thomson says she will focus on improving the district’s technology and providing greater support for at-risk students. She’s committed to find the training funds to assist teachers in the transition to the Common Core curriculum and the new teacher-principal evaluation system.

Brian Tomlinson has a passion for public service, and he’s trying to find an entry point. He ran unsuccessfully for Olympia City Council. Because he lives in OSD District 3, he has to challenge Thomson.

Unfortunately, Tomlinson doesn’t make the compelling case to unseat a smart and dedicated incumbent. He hasn’t been attending meetings, though he prefers to read minutes or listen to podcasts. He doesn’t have children in the system.

Thomson is the only woman on the OSD board. There is a distinct benefit to having gender diversity on any governing body, and it seems especially relevant to school boards.

More importantly, Tomlinson misunderstands the role of a school board, which is primarily to set policy, be a public advocate for public schools and to hire or fire the district superintendent.

He hints at more of a micro-managing approach, involving himself or the board into day-to-day operations. That would chase away good superintendents and other administrators and cause division on a board that has worked hard to put dysfunction in its past.

Tomlinson would benefit from directly engaging with the OSD through volunteerism and other avenues, going to meetings and learning more about the role of a school board.

Thomson has indicated she might not make another re-election bid in four years. We’ll see, but she is clearly the best candidate in this race.

Initiative 517 – Vote NO

Washington citizens have used the state’s initiative and referendum process since 1914 to address a wide variety of issues in the public interest, from allowing the sale of colored margarine (1952) to prohibitions on forced school busing (1978) to approving same-sex marriage (2012).

The best initiatives reflect the will of the people on matters of serious public interest. The worst ones attempt to deceive the public for some self-interest.

Initiative 517 falls into the later category, and voters should reject it.

The measure is misleadingly titled “Protect the Initiative Act,” because the name implies there is some threat to our well-functioning initiative process. That is not the case. Popular, well-organized statewide initiatives almost always make it on to general election ballots.

Instead of improving the initiative process, this Tim Eyman initiative creates serious new problems.

Initiative 517 would allow signature gatherers unrestricted access to all public venues. Libraries, high school stadiums, hospitals and even schools would lose the right to control signature-gathering activities around and even inside its premises.

Imagine going to a live performance at The Washington Center and being detained by clipboard-carrying advocates, even in the theatre’s seats.

The initiative would interfere with individual property rights. I-517 prohibits property owners from regulating signature gathering around their businesses. If customers felt harangued entering or exiting a store, the business owner would be powerless to set restrictions on signature gathering.

Former Attorney General Rob McKenna believes that provision of the initiative violates constitutional property right protections. The Washington Policy Center agrees, saying “signature gathering shouldn’t infringe on private property rights for those businesses that don’t want to engage in a given political debate.”

The imprecise language of I-517 invites legal challenges on multiples levels. For example, it tampers with the First Amendment in making “yelling, screaming, or being verbally abusive” with signature gatherers a criminal offense.

The initiative also creates a 25-foot interference-free zone around signature gatherers. If a petitioner is aggressively blocking entry into a store, it would become a misdemeanor crime to push or shove pass them.

Former Secretary of State Sam Reed and former State Auditor Brian Sonntag have written that “I-517 protects only the paid petition signature gatherers from harassment, when in reality oftentimes it is the citizens who are being harassed.”

Existing laws already protect signature gatherers from abuse and assault. As the Washington Policy Center says, “It’s unclear how adding new restrictions in law will lead to better enforcement of the current legal protections.”

Don’t be fooled. Initiative entrepreneur Eyman uses I-517 to pose imaginary concerns, and then overreaches for unnecessary solutions. It serves only his personal interests. Vote no.

Initiative 522 – Vote NO

The promoters of Initiative 522 say they just want to give consumers more useful information about what’s in our food. They fail miserably on that claim by creating a selective labeling system for foods containing a discernable trace of genetically altered nutrients.

The initiative would confuse rather than inform, so voters should reject this poorly worded and deceptive initiative.

The writers of the initiative say consumers have a right to know what’s in their food. No disagreement on that point. But I-522 doesn’t provide the means for conveying reliable information.

Some foods with no genetically modified organisms would require a label, while other foods that do contain GMOs would not. The exemptions in this initiative would make no sense to consumers.

For example, the sucrose found in beet sugar and cane sugar are chemically identical. But the initiative would require labels on packages of sugar made from genetically altered sugar beets, not from cane sugar. Cheese gets an exemption whether or not it contains altered enzymes.

It’s obvious this initiative is designed for some purpose other than providing consumers with helpful information.

Hundreds of independent scientific studies have concluded that foods containing genetically modified organisms do not differ from non-GMO foods in safety, and are substantially equivalent to non-GMO foods in nutritional value.

That’s also the conclusion of the Washington State Academy of Sciences. It was asked by the state Legislature to analyze the issues raised by I-522.

Where the vast body of current scientific knowledge differs, however, is whether growing genetically modified crops poses any long-term threat to agricultural soils, wildlife or other plants. There’s no conclusive evidence on that point, but it is a worrisome possibility.

Unfortunately, I-522 doesn’t address this issue openly, or honestly.

Instead, it would splash a warning label on the front of food packages to suggest consumers have something to fear, when the real intent is to deter genetic engineering in agriculture by making the use of GMOs more complicated and expensive. Confusing consumers is a strategy toward that goal.

Most of Washington’s non-organic farmers oppose I-522. For one reason, the initiative would encourage so-called bounty hunter lawsuits. If a negligible amount of GMO were found in an unlabeled food, any person could launch a lawsuit against the farmer and anyone in the processing chain, including small business people who put it on their shelves.

Supporters of the initiative point to the labeling requirements of the European Union. But the EU requires a GMO notation on the side or back of the product where other nutritional information is printed. It is not presented on the front of the package like a cancer warning about tobacco, as the initiative would mandate.

We share the concerns about the long-term environmental impacts that genetically altering crops might have on our planet’s ecosystem. That’s a discussion we should have openly, as a nation, and encourage independent research to continue on this topic.

When the preponderance of scientific evidence clearly points one way or the other on environmental issues, then we can make informed decisions about GMO regulation.

In that regard, I-522 is not helpful. It ultimately fails for purporting to be something it is not. The initiative cloaks a larger political agenda by appealing to our “right to know.”

Many defects plague this initiative, but that’s reason enough to vote no on I-522.

 

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