So far, 2015 is shaping up as one of the strangest election years in recent memory.
First we have the biggest race in the state with potential control of the State House of Representatives at stake. Appointed Democratic state Rep. Carol Gregory is being challenged by Republican Teri Hickel. Gregory has been active in politics most of her adult life and ran for the Legislature two previous times before winning election to the Federal Way school board and serving as its president.
Hickel has been very active in the community and is a credible candidate, but she has never run for office before. Watch third party money and how it is spent. The “hit” pieces may drown out the candidates. The biggest race in the state, right here in Federal Way!
Then we have several years of controversy with South King Fire and Rescue, including questions on spending, nepotism, cronyism, the failure of the bond and the investigation of a complaint by the chief against one of his commissioner bosses, Mark Freitas. To most fire district followers, Freitas appeared to be the only commissioner who provided any check and balance on the agency. So do we get a groundswell of candidates seeking change and more accountability? No, Freitas decides he’s had enough and won’t run and the other position, held by John Rickert, draws only one other candidate, Marty Grisham who is the emergency management manager for Tukwila.
The three candidates for Freitas’s seat will be perennial Jerry Galland, Roger Flygare, who has also run unsuccessfully for the Legislature and the City Council, and newcomer Bill Fuller. And is the board looking for someone who is independent? Apparently not, they have already endorsed Flygare. Galland will run on a change platform. Both Grisham and Flygare will have to demonstrate that they can be independent and provide a check and balance. Flygare faces the bigger challenge to prove to the public he isn’t already a rubber stamp. Or can the unknown Fuller articulate a position that makes him viable?
Not to be outdone, the school board and the City Council were equally odd. Former school board member Angela Griffin left the board because she moved out of her district. She now wants to return to the board in her new district and will run against incumbent Claire Wilson. Then, incumbent Danny Peterson didn’t file to run again and will seed the seat to his opponent from four years ago, Liz Drake. Drake dropped out of that race to return to the school district in an administrative position. There was a lot of speculation about the timing of the job offer. Peterson had been acting like a candidate so his departure came as a surprise, even though it would have been difficult for him to beat Drake. Another surprise is that appointed board member Hiroshi Eto will run unopposed. Again, where are all the candidates?
And the City Council! Whenever there is a vacancy for appointment to the council, outstanding candidates come out of the woodwork. Come election year and nobody wants to run! That’s not to say there won’t be some good races. But in a town of almost 100,000 people there should be three to four candidates for each seat, especially with all the significant issues before the council.
The only place that turned out candidates was the least controversial agency in town. Lakehaven Utility District commisioner Charles Gibson did not file for reelection and three newcomers Richard Peterson, Peter Sanchez and Randy Smith all filed for his position. Position 5 incumbent Ron Nowicki will be unopposed.
The lack of candidates was one oddity in the run up to filing week, but there were a couple of others.
There had been several rumors the last two weeks about potential new candidates, but only one surfaced, local businesswoman Julie Hiller. As a political newcomer waiting until filing week is an unusual strategy. Even more surprising to many was that she filed against businessman Mark Koppang. On the surface, she and Koppang would seem to appeal to the same political base.
Koppang has already held a fundraiser and received endorsements from several elected officials. He has experience running a campaign and serves on city committees. He has worked hard to prepare himself for this race.
Election watchers wondered why Hiller waited so long and then didn’t run against Councilwoman Susan Honda, who is unopposed, or incumbent Dini Duclos. Although, Hiller’s base could be similar to Honda’s. Even though Duclos is an incumbent, some saw Hiller as a potentially stronger candidate against Duclos than P.K. Thumbi. And a primary would give Hiller a better feel for her strength and voters’ reactions to her positions. More importantly, her base appears different than Duclos. Among the rumors was that Mark Greene would switch from council Position 1 against appointed incumbent Lydia Assefa-Dawson and challenger Anthony Murietta, and run in Position 5 against Koppang. But Greene didn’t switch and that will stay a three-person race.
Position 1 was an expected oddity as both Assefa-Dawson and Murrietta are Democrats. Some Democratic insiders think Greene may be a Democrat as well. Another oddity? The Republican and independent vote will decide the winner.
There is another position up for election and it will be filled in January. That is the position of deputy mayor. When the council meets in 2016, four votes among seven council members decide the winner.
The maneuvering has started and you can watch it unfold as council members, and would be council members, endorse or privately help candidates. You can’t always see this campaign, but it is there and it will have a major impact on council relationships and politics for the next two years.
And the county had a surprise, as elected Elections Director Sherrill Huff announced just before filing week that she would not run for reelection. By keeping her plans low-key she appeared to be trying to pave the way for her Deputy Julie Wise. However, state Rep. Zach Hudgins and Shoreline resident Christopher Roberts also filed for the position.
Gregory-Hickel, Hudgins-Wise-Roberts, Galland-Flygare-Fuller, Rickert-Grisham, Wilson-Griffin, with Drake and Eto unopposed, Koppang-Hiller, Duclos-Thumbi, Assefa-Dawson-Murrietta-Greene, with Honda unopposed. Peterson-Sanchez-Smith with Nowicki unopposed.
What a strange election year?
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn: email@example.com.