Appointee leads county District 3

Thurston County Commissioner Karen Valenzuela took a commanding lead over challenger Pat Beehler on Tuesday night in the Thurston County Commissioner, District 3, race.

Valenzuela, a Democrat and former Tumwater City Council member appointed in January to the vacated county post, had garnered 55.7 percent of the votes counted so far Tuesday night, compared with 44.1 percent for Beehler, a Republican and Olympia-based businessman.

The candidates provided voters a clear choice in this contest to finish out the final year of the unexpired term of Bob Macleod, who resigned in December for medical reasons.

Valenzuela, 60, is an unabashed supporter of environmental causes and a clean-energy economy. Her political base included Democratic Party faithful, environmentalists, labor advocates and tribes.

“The results of this election show the voters think I’m doing a pretty good job,” Valenzuela said.

She said her priorities in the year ahead are to continue sound management of the county’s natural resources while working to attract environmentally sustainable jobs to the county.

Beehler, 64, a moderate Republican, had strong support from South Sound realtors, builders and other members of the business community. He raised more than $53,700 in his first bid for public office, outspending the incumbent by several thousand dollars.

“There’s disappointment on my part,” Beehler said. “I know I had a lot of support out there, but the question is: Did they all take the time to fill out their ballots and mail them in?”

Beehler said he’s strongly considering a repeat run for the commission seat in 2010. Valenzuela also is likely to run for a full term in 2010.

The contest between Valenzuela and Beehler was civil and fairly low-key, with only a few campaign issues receiving most of the attention. They included:

 • The budget feud between the county commissioners and Sheriff Dan Kimball. Valenzuela contends that the county commissioners have the right to set both overall county department budgets and policies dictating how the money is spent. Beehler said the county commissioners overstepped their budget authority with the sheriff.

 • Valenzuela’s endorsement of a county interim ordinance and moratorium to preserve prairie lands in south county, a move that Beehler said trampled private-property rights.

The candidates will barely have time to store away their campaign signs. The District 3 seat will be back on the 2010 ballot for a full, four-year term.

John Dodge: 360-754-5444