Two years after Thurston County Democrats filled a gym and flooded a school parking lot for their county convention, they gathered in much smaller numbers and in a more subdued mood Saturday.
The Democrats’ biennial county convention drew 106 delegates for a morning full of speeches by candidates who will run in fall elections, and to draft a platform that drew quiet debate. They also approved a resolution supporting tax increases by the Legislature to blunt the effects of spending cuts on school and health care programs.
Party leaders said the low-key turnout is not unusual for a nonpresidential election, and they are not worried it is a sign of complacency as the party gears up for its June 25-26 state convention and a summer campaign season. After all, the party just saw Congress vote for a major health reform bill, and other legislation dealing with the finance system and jobs is pending.
County Democratic Party Chairman Jim Cooper said he is “expecting a big Democratic year locally,” and the party will open a headquarters May 1 at 317 E. Fourth Ave. in Olympia.
“We actually have more candidates that have announced than ever before at this point of the year,” he said.
Three candidates showed up at the convention to announce they are running for office:
• Former Tumwater school board member Corinne Tobeck, who works for the Lewis County commissioners, said she is taking on House Republican Leader Richard DeBolt in the 20th Legislative District.
• Shawn Myers announced she is joining five other candidates seeking the Thurston County treasurer job.
• Jeremy Miller, an advocate of the legal medical use of marijuana and the founder of the Olympia Love and Freedom Foundation, let the Democrats know he is joining a crowded field that now includes six Democrats and one Republican, Jason Hearn, in the 22nd District race. All seven seek the seat Rep. Brendan Williams, a three-term progressive, is retiring from.
Williams, who served as the convention’s chairman, has not endorsed a successor.
Tobeck touted her work with chambers of commerce in Tumwater and west Olympia and said she would work for education, safe communities, educational opportunities for all ages, and balancing the interests of the community and businesses.
“We need a new face in the 20th District,” Tobeck said.
Cooper called her a viable challenger to DeBolt and did not rule out more Democrats running for the 20th District’s three legislative seats.
Myers joins a treasurer’s race that added several candidates since former Olympia Councilman Joe Hyer, the heir apparent for the job, was arrested on suspicion of selling marijuana. Hyer dropped out just before county commissioners could appoint him as Treasurer Robin Hunt’s replacement for the rest of the year and, on Saturday, resigned his council seat.
Cooper said the party is accepting candidate names for nomination to appointment until April 18 and will make its recommendation to commissioners at the Democrats’ April 26 meeting.
No Democrats had submitted their names as of Saturday, Cooper said. But five Democrats are running – Myers, Diana Benson, Noah Crocker, Tom Oliva, and Bill Pilkey (who has run for office as a Republican before).
Republican Thomas Nelson also is running.
Myers ran against Hunt in 2006 but lost, despite the endorsement of Mike Murphy, who was then the state treasurer.
“I have 25 years of cash management experience,” Myers said, adding that she has worked for three county treasurers in the past 19 years and now handles cash management for the state treasurer. “I’m the most qualified candidate.”
Benson said treasurer Hunt is endorsing her.
In the 22nd District race, Miller put out a statement saying he is “a true hometown candidate” and the only one “who was educated, worked, lived, loved, and been a grass-roots organizer in this community his whole life.” He said he would “always be a vote against state worker layoffs and benefit cuts” and favors policies that bring jobs to the state; he did not elaborate on what those policies are.
Also running in the 22nd are management consultant and Democratic activist Stew Henderson, Tumwater School Board member Chris Reykdal, natural-resources expert Steve Robinson, Tumwater City Council member Judi Hoefling, and Department of Health employee Joe Mihelich.
Reykdal won endorsement of the Machinists union, and he said the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 612 also was endorsing him. Henderson said Local 443 of the Washington Federation of State Employees is recommending to the federation’s endorsing arm that he be given the nod.
Two Olympia-based congressional candidates running in the 3rd District also spoke – Denny Heck, the former legislator and TVW co-founder who is focused on job creation, and Cheryl Crist, who talked about bringing troops home from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
A third Democrat in the 3rd District race, state Sen. Craig Pridemore, sent a letter to be read aloud because he was away attending a funeral for a nephew. Pridemore expressed support for a single-payer health system, full marital rights for gay couples and other progressive positions.
Crist made a reference to the energy of the 2008 campaigns and the standing-room-only crowds they drew.
“Everybody stand up and say, ‘Yes we can.’ We haven’t said that in a few months,” Crist urged.
Other Democrats noticed the difference, too.
“We were very pumped up two years ago,” said Thurston County Commissioner Karen Valenzuela, who is running for a full term this fall against the same Republican she defeated last year, Pat Beehler, for an unexpired term. “I would say that Democrats know full well we have a position to defend, particularly nationally with health care reform.”
Republicans held their Thurston County convention two weeks ago, and Attorney General Rob McKenna brought the delegates to their feet several times with talk of his lawsuit to overturn federal health care reform.
“We cannot take things for granted even in this district, in this county,” Rep. Sam Hunt of Olympia told the Democrats. “We cannot leave it up to the candidates. … It takes a team. Going to the convention is not enough. Each of us needs to doorbell, campaign, put up signs and donate, donate, donate.”
Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688