Election action in FW: Judicial race steals the spotlight | Bob Roegner

The suburban hot spot this primary season has been right here in Federal Way.

There are some interesting races elsewhere in King County, but nothing that compares to the competitiveness and abilities that the candidates for judge and city council have exhibited here at home.

Next Tuesday, it is up to the voters to decide who will advance to the general election in November. As always, I polled many community leaders and elected officials to gauge their perceptions of who will win. It’s unusual for a race for a municipal judge position to be the most watched and debated. But that is clearly the case, as the notoriety surrounding the Federal Way Municipal Court has attracted an impressive field — giving voters choices and options.

Incumbent Judge Michael Morgan is perceived to be vulnerable, but is running hard to retain his position. Morgan is a seasoned campaigner and that experience shows in how his campaign is unfolding. He will likely outspend his opponents. However, Rebecca Robertson and Matthew York have run good campaigns as well, and both received endorsements from the Federal Way Mirror and Tacoma News Tribune (TNT) based on their qualifications.

Robertson and York received “well qualified” ratings from the King County Bar Association (KCBA), while James Santucci received a rating of “qualified.” Williams Jarvis was rated “not qualified.” Neither Morgan nor candidate Mark Knapp participated in the KCBA process. Knapp was not rated and Morgan was rated “not qualified.”

But in this race, residency may have equal political footing with qualifications. Morgan, Santucci and Knapp live in Federal Way, and all three have a political foundation and following based on their years of community involvement. That has put Robertson and York at a disadvantage, and they have had to make up a lot of ground. Also, with so many candidates in the field, the vote will be split, which usually benefits the incumbent. My experts say they expect the two finalists to come from Robertson, Santucci and Morgan. It will be a small but knowledgeable voter turnout, so York’s endorsements could move him into the top two. Everything depends on how the voters balance their view of the court’s controversies with the candidates’ qualifications, endorsements and residency.

The race for the open seat on the Federal Way City Council would normally have taken center stage, particularly with so many good candidates. But this year, the judicial race has that honor. The council candidates have all been working to connect with different voting blocks and “likely” voters. Identifying those voters will be crucial for the candidates as Diana Noble-Gulliford, David St. John and Lorie Wood all share some overlapping constituencies that they are competing for — particularly among Republicans and businesses.

Roger Freeman’s likely constituency, Democrats and educators, are different. His candidacy two years ago helps, but the challenge to contact and win over likely voters is still the same. Noble-Gulliford and Freeman were endorsed by The Mirror, and Noble–Gulliford also got the nod from the TNT. Noble-Gulliford and Freeman received a “very good” rating from the Municipal League, while Wood got a “good.” St. John did not participate, and there was not enough information in the public domain for the Municipal League to provide him a rating. Troy Smith declined to participate, but the League did a review and rated him “not qualified.”

Conventional wisdom is that Noble-Gulliford and Freeman are the most likely to advance to the general election. Could St. John or Wood surprise? Possibly, as both are certainly putting up a good effort.

That’s how my cadre of experts views the two races. We’ll see if they’re right. Now it’s up to the voters.