Off-year elections don’t always draw high turnout. But there are important issues on the Thurston County ballot in the Nov. 7 election.
Top local issues are a public safety tax in Olympia and city council races in Olympia, Lacey and Tumwater. There are also school board races in Olympia, North Thurston and Tumwater school districts.
The Olympian Editorial Board spent many hours this fall interviewing South Sound candidates, reviewing other information, and debating among ourselves about the virtues and drawbacks of the 2017 field.
The deadline for returning ballots in Washington’s vote-by-mail election is at 8 p.m. Tuesday of Election Day.
What follows is a short summary (and links in online editions) for each campaign editorial we published over the past month.
Position 3: E.J. Zita won our support two years ago when she ran to fill a vacancy on the Olympia port commission. The Evergreen State College professor has been controversial as she worked to hold port executives and fellow commissioners’ feet to the fire on cargo, finance and transparency issues. She is challenged by an Army veteran, Gigi McClure, who has an impressive military background, but appears too inflexible to deal with the politics that go along with having a marine terminal in a city that loves protest.
We look for Zita to continue her work to hold the port accountable for its Thurston County-wide projects and proposals and to insist that port decision are open to the public.
Position 2: Bill McGregor is a longtime Olympia port commissioner whose background includes managing ports in past decades. Though he’s revealed shortcomings with his harsh treatment of one former commissioner, who fell ill, he is close to getting small cruise ships to call at the Olympia port.
McGregor is challenged by Bill Fishburn, a former employee at Intel who chose to run for the port seat after discovering he was ineligible for a seat on the Rainier council. Fishburn is making his campaign about the port’s finances, lease rates and his wish to make the port’s deficits easier for the public to understand.
Fishburn raises good questions. But we give McGregor the nod based on his experience and effort to diversify port revenues.
Proposition 1 in Olympia asks voters to approve a $2.85 million property annual tax levy for public safety programs. The priorities include restoration of the Olympia Police Department’s downtown walking patrols, which are important to bringing more residents and shoppers into the city core. Prop. 1 also provides funds for neighborhood policing, training, courts and the hiring of a response team to assist homeless and mentally ill persons on city streets.
The tax is modest — $117 a year for owners of a $260,000 home — and the investments are badly needed. The measure pairs well with a sales tax measure the council plans to put on the 2018 ballot for new supported-housing units.
Position 4: Clark Gilman, a school teacher and appointee to the council, gets the edge over Max Brown, a former Olympia Planning Commission member. Brown is a strong, energetic candidate who would bring a younger person’s perspective. We favored Gilman, citing his clear advocacy for homeless populations and generally pragmatic approaches to city problems. But we hope Brown sticks around.
Position 5: Neither Lisa Parshley nor Allen Miller earned our trust or endorsement. Both have good ideas for fostering housing downtown and taking on the homelessness problem, but both have flaws and we wish voters had other choices.
Parshley is a veterinarian who owns two clinics in the city and has accomplishments in her professional life. She came under a cloud for registering to vote in Olympia where her residence lacked a kitchen, while keeping her cars registered at a county address. A county elections board since determined she is legally registered to vote in the city.
Miller owns his own law firm, is a former Olympia School Board member and has long been an advocate for open space around Capitol Lake and other good causes. Unfortunately Miller has been too eager to embrace rejected science to support his views about the future of the lake.
Position 6: Jeannine Roe is a two-term incumbent whose record on downtown issues has been solid enough — whether it was to create Artesian Commons or the Downtown Ambassadors program. Challenger Renata Rollins is an activist who could elevate the concerns of those who are homeless or disenfranchised. We’d like to see Rollins stay involved, but Roe gets the nod this time.
Position 7: Incumbent Jim Cooper is a well-known Olympia political figure, and he showed finesse in crafting a city parks bond measure that voters approved in 2015. He is challenged by a below-radar candidate Daniel (Danny) Marsh who has given no compelling reason to replace the incumbent.
Proposition 1 in Lacey asks voters in sprawling Thurston County Fire District 3 to approve a 20-year bond issue for fire station upgrades, new equipment and three fire trucks. The measure would raise nearly $20 million and be paid off with a slightly higher property tax levy.
Lacey contracts with the fire district for service. District 3 also serves areas surrounding the city.
Prop. 1 represents a modest increase in taxes to protect lives and property inside Lacey, including its business district, and unincorporated areas to the north, south and east.
The bonds would replace existing bonds scheduled to expire in late 2020. This reduces the impact on taxpayers. The net tax increase through 2020 is about 4 cents per month per $1,000 of assessed valuation, which translates to $10.40 a year on a $260,000 home and lot. The tax rate would decrease after 2020.
Position 7: Carolyn Cox, a state employee who serves on the city Planning Commission, is forward-looking and best prepared to address the city’s coming growth and homelessness issues in constructive ways.
Also running for this open seat is Ken Balsley, who is well-known as a cantankerous Lacey history buff and author of a local newsletter. He is making public safety an issue.
Overall Cox is the better candidate based on her grasp of growth and other regional challenges the city shares with other jurisdictions.
Position 6: Two military veterans are pitted in this race, and we favor one-term incumbent Michael Steadman, who owns a small business managing property. He is making public safety a top issue, is forthright on many issues and is a moderate.
Challenger Robert Motzer works as a civilian at Joint Base Lewis McChord. He wants to focus on veterans and has done volunteering in Olympia to assist homeless individuals. His goals of lower taxes, looser regulations, economic growth and completed road projects appear in conflict with each other.
Overall, Steadman gained experience in his first term and is the better choice.
Positions 3 & 4: Incumbents Rachel Young and Cynthia Pratt are running unopposed.
Mayor: Tumwater Mayor Pete Kmet is an easy choice for re-election. The retired state worker brings quiet but confident leadership and a track record of working to spur economic development, especially around the city’s historic brewing theme, over the past eight years. Challenger Chris Ward is running another of his below-radar campaigns and gives no logical reason to replace Kmet.
Position 5: Michael Althauser, a legal aid attorney, former legislative staffer and city Planning Commission member, is an excellent choice to fill a vacant City Council seat. He brings a good grasp of city-level issues appropriate for the council, including economic development, affordable housing and the regional homelessness challenge.
Chelsea Rustad, a state employee, is running as a Socialist Party USA candidate and hopes to promote such issues as a $15 minimum wage, rent controls, and safeguards against housing gentrification. She deserves credit for stepping into the fray, but Althauser is more pragmatic and a better fit.
Position 6: Debbie Sullivan, a state employee and incumbent, is the best of two candidates in this race. She is challenged by Brian Tomlinson, a state employee and relative newcomer to the city. Tomlinson deserves credit for past service on an Olympia parks advisory board and historic commission. But Sullivan is far better versed in city issues.
Sullivan previously was on the Tumwater Planning Commission, is perceptive and understands the need to encourage a demographic mix of residents in new housing projects.
Position 4: Council member Eileen Swarthout is running unopposed for
Position 4: Hilary Seidel is the best prepared candidate to fill this open seat. The parent of school age children works at the state schools agency, is well-versed in education policy and clearer in her support of helping struggling students. Ann Heitkemper is a tenured faculty member at South Puget Sound Community College and an advocate of better use of science in society’s decision-making, which we agree with. Seidel has the edge.
Position 3: Educator Leslie Huff is the only choice to fill the seat being vacated by retirement. Katie Bridges withdrew her campaign too late to take her name off the ballot, but Bridges is urging voters to support Huff.
Position 5: Mark Campeau, an energy trader, is a two-term incumbent and his grasp of school budgets are one key reason we endorsed him over challenger Scott Clifthorne. Another is that by electing Seidel, Huff and Clifthorne three candidates with kids in alternative programs would form a majority on the board. We prefer to see more diversity.
Campeau and Clifthorne are solid in their support of equal educational opportunities. The challenger wants to use his community experience as a union organizer to boost public involvement. If re-elected, Campeau needs to commit more fully to transparent and open conversation by school board members.
Candidates for the North Thurston School Board left a bit to be desired.
Position 1: An open seat drew candidates Gretchen Maliska, who has worked on North Thurston levy campaigns and is employed by Olympia schools, and Steven Capps, who is on the district’s foundation board. Neither earns our support.
Capps has good experience outside the traditional school-policy box, and Maliska has good experience in career and technical education. But neither was responsive to interview requests, which raises questions about their readiness to serve the public.
Position 2: Neither six-term incumbent Chuck Namit or Marcia Coppin, who is on the board but running in a new district, earns our endorsement. Namit is well-educated on school issues, and Coppin brings more genuine passion for students. But Namit, who kept talking over Coppin during our interview, needs to listen better if he is re-elected; Coppin, who did not speak up enough, needs to be more assertive if she wins.
Position 3: Melissa “Mel” Hartley, an incumbent with good professional credentials as a lawyer and military veteran, is running unopposed.
Position 1: Rita Luce, an incumbent on the Tumwater School Board, has been involved in district schools for 40 years starting as a parent of students. Challenger Barry Olson is a longtime classroom teacher with experience in Montana, Idaho and Washington schools who is retired from Tumwater’s Black Hills High School.
Both support more vocational options for students, and Luce wants to build on recent district efforts to link struggling students and their families with community services. Olson could bring classroom perspective to the board and is supported by the teachers union. On balance, we favor Luce.
Position 4: Melissa Determan Beard, who grew up in Tumwater, was appointed to the board last December. She has a doctorate degree and works for state government. She deserves more time on the board to make a difference.
The challenger, Ryan Tebow, grew up in Shelton, teaches in a Pierce County school district and has a master’s in teaching degree. He describes himself as a “progressive advocate.”
Determan Beard is the more accessible and deserving candidate.
Position 5: Incumbent Janine Ward is running unopposed.