It didn’t take long for names of potential candidates for Thurston County Commission Chairwoman Sandra Romero’s District 2 seat to surface.
So far, former Thurston County Sheriff Gary Edwards and Lacey City Council member Michael Steadman have confirmed they are considering filing as candidates for the office. Romero’s replacement will be elected in November, when her term expires. She is not seeking re-election.
Romero, 67, has represented District 2 — which includes Yelm, Lacey and the eastern portion of Thurston County — since 2009. She was a state legislator from 1993 to 2004, and a member of the Olympia City Council from 1989 to 1991.
Edwards, 69, who lives in rural Thurston County near Yelm, said he has been approached many times over the past couple of years to run for public office.
“I had no intention of running for office (again) when I retired in 2006,” he said. “I was pretty content. I did my public service.”
Edwards said he began thinking about entering politics again after helping with Thurston County Commissioner Bud Blake’s successful campaign against incumbent Democrat Karen Valenzuela.
Like Blake, Edwards said he would run as an independent for the county seat.
“I’ve had it; I think the public is upset with partisan politics,” said Edwards, who ran as a Republican for sheriff. “We need to have common sense instead of partisan politics in office.”
He said many of the county’s issues were caused by the commissioners’ earlier decisions.
“We can have our environment well-protected, we can have safety through law and justice, and it all depends on having a viable economic engine going on in the community,” Edwards said.
Steadman, 45, said he’ll make a decision about running within the next week or two.
“I’m mulling it around,” he said. “I haven’t decided yet. I’m just seeing if the support is there.”
Steadman, chief executive officer of Steadman Properties, a commercial real estate enterprise, is in his first term on the Lacey council.
“I’ll just say my strong point is budget management,” he said. “So I think I bring a lot to the table there.”
Steadman said he’s had to make tough decisions on the city council, and, like Edwards, he said he wants to run to bring “common sense” to the board.
“It’s hard because my heart is in Lacey, and I think we’ve done a lot of good things in Lacey,” Steadman said. “And I’d like to see that spread countywide.”
In addition to possible candidates, Romero’s announcement has brought out her supporters.
George Sharp, former executive director of the Olympia Lacey Tumwater Visitor & Convention Bureau, worked with Romero on the county’s agritourism efforts, which included designation of the Bountiful Byway. The nearly 60-mile loop skirts the county and features nearly 100 suggested agricultural, ecological and cultural stops for visitors.
“She was level-headed and she would listen to people before forming her personal opinion on how to govern,” he recalls. “And I think it’s lucky to have that in elected officials.”
Sharp said Romero’s replacement will have some big issues to address.
“I think one of the key issues is going to continue to be what’s going on with the Mazama pocket gopher and what land regulation is taking place and how that’s going to affect development,” he said.
Former Thurston County Executive Manager Don Krupp, who is now administrator of Clackamas County, said Romero’s most important contribution to Thurston County was “good land use planning to protect our environmental assets.”
“She is a very quick study on issues,” he said. “She assimilates data and information rather quickly and she has high expectations for performance of the organization.”
State Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Thurston County, described Romero as “extraordinarily able … and dedicated to public service.”
She said Romero’s Coffee Chats — informal meetings with constituents in Lacey and rural Thurston County — are legendary and have helped her stay connected with local issues.
“She has been a commissioner during, I would say, exceptionally difficult times,” Fraser said. “They’ve had to make all kinds of cuts. But at the same time, she has brought a very positive attitude (to) the county.”