The race for Thurston County Sheriff asks voters to choose between Democrat Dan Kimball, a career law enforcement officer who is Thurston County's chief criminal deputy, and Republican Howard Thronson, a manager at the Washington Department of Natural Resources who works as a reserve officer with the Lacey Police Department.
Thronson touts his experience as a reserve lieutenant in Lacey, where he works weekends driving a patrol car, averaging about 35 hours of patrol work every month. In the biographical materials he submitted to The Olympian, Thronson says he has 20 years of reserve law enforcement experience.
"I have worked the back streets of Clallam County and the city streets of Lacey for thousands of hours," Thronson said during a candidates forum before the Kiwanis Club of Olympia.
Kimball, 49 and a Port Townsend native, like Thronson has never run for public office before. But Kimball was quick to point out during his interview that he is the only candidate with experience as a full-time law enforcement officer for more than 21 years.
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"I'm the only full-time, state-certified law enforcement officer who is running for this post," Kimball said.
Thronson spoke about the extensive training he has undergone as a reserve police officer - graduating from the Washington Criminal Justice Training Commission Reserve Academy - in firearms, defensive tactics and the operations of emergency vehicles.
But Thronson also explained that voters need not look for the qualities of a "road deputy" when they elect a sheriff.
"The sheriff really does need to be a manager, a CEO," Thronson said. "The 31 years I have with the Department of Natural Resources have given me the management tools where I can provide the type of leadership that's needed to lead the sheriff's office."
Thronson, 54, is a 1974 graduate of the University of Washington. He was born in Montana and moved to Bellevue when he was 10. In addition to his work with DNR, he said he also has experience as a wildland firefighter from about 1970 to 1993, including as an incident commander.
If elected, Thronson said, he would come into the position "with all of the necessary skills to manage a complex office."
"I have written statutes that have been passed by the Legislature dealing with natural resources, law enforcement issues. I've formatted and reformatted the department's fire reduction cost recovery program," he said.
In his years with the sheriff's office, Kimball said, he has served as a line deputy, a detective, a sergeant, a lieutenant, a captain and, now, chief criminal deputy in charge of operations under Republican Sheriff Gary Edwards. Kimball's campaign materials highlight his 14 years of experience in supervision, management and leadership positions within the sheriff's office.
"I believe it is critically important that we elect someone who has the background, the professional experience, the record of success as well as the vision of the future for our community in the area of public safety," Kimball said during the Kiwanis candidates' forum.
As a detective, Kimball worked everything from sexual assaults of children to homicides. As the chief criminal deputy for the sheriff's office, Kimball said, he's in charge of the patrol and detective divisions, about 85 percent of the commissioned staff, with a budget of more than $7 million.
When Kimball talks about the leadership he would bring to the job if elected, he speaks about his involvement in the creation and oversight of the Special Enforcement Team in the sheriff's office, which has tackled the methamphetamine problem in Thurston County and has "reduced meth labs by over 90 percent in Thurston County in the last five years."
Kimball also was a team member of the statewide Amber Alert Web Portal Project, which puts media and law enforcement alerts on the Internet any time a child is abducted. Kimball also cites his leadership in a project to develop protocols for local law enforcement in dealing with domestic violence, and being a founding member of the Thurston County Vulnerable Adult Task Force, a multiagency group including law enforcement groups and prosecutors charged with finding better ways to protect the elderly and those with developmental disabilities.
Kimball said he realized a full-time law enforcement career was for him soon after he started working as a reserve deputy in the early '80s, after graduating from the reserve academy No. 1 in his class.
"It's an important job," Kimball said. "You're out there, and you feel like you're making a difference. ... You have an opportunity to make a difference in people's lives, to save people's lives sometimes."
Thronson said that as a manager with DNR, he has been responsible for up to 250 employees and managed large budgets, skill that will translate well if he is elected as sheriff come November. As a division manager for DNR, Thronson said, he helps oversee the state's timber sales, its agricultural resources, the mining of natural resources and the state's commercial real estate.
"I've managed budgets as high as $72 million," Thronson said. "My current budget is $30 million. I'm responsible for statewide programs. I've written state law. I know what the legislative process is."
If elected, Thronson said, he would try to add manpower so that there are more deputies out on the beat. One way to add manpower and still be fiscally responsible might be to cut positions higher up in the administration, so that more deputies can be hired without increasing the office's budget, Thronson said.
Kimball said he has implemented a cost-efficient plan for hiring more road deputies without increasing the budget.
Kimball said he will increase the number of road deputies by "downsizing our mid-level management and restructuring some of the support positions and put more deputies on the road at no additional cost to the taxpayers."
Kimball said a similar reorganization has been completed to put three new deputies on the road, and if he is elected, such a reorganization will put an additional four deputies on the road.
Both the Thurston County Deputy Sheriff's Association and the Thurston County Corrections Union have endorsed Kimball, along with a long list of elected Democrats in Washington state.
Thronson's prominent endorsers include Republican State Attorney General Rob McKenna and Republican Secretary of State Sam Reed. Thronson conceded that Thurston County is "very much a Democratic County," but that while it might be hard for local Republicans to win elections, "that doesn't mean it can't be done."
Thronson also said that with the same administration in place at the sheriff's department for he past 20 years under current Sheriff Edwards, it's understandable that some in the department might be fearful of change.
"They've had the current administration for 20 years," Thronson said. "The last thing I'm going to do is make sweeping, massive changes. That's foolish."
Thronson said there are advantages to being a candidate who does not have any prior experience with the Thurston County Sheriff's Office.
"I'm not attached to any one way of doing the job," he said. "It's not bad to bring in qualified people from the outside."