Power pursuit shakes up Pierce Co. politics

OK, Pierce County voters: How many of you can explain Ranked Choice Voting or Instant Run-off Voting?

OK, Pierce County voters: How many of you can explain Ranked Choice Voting or Instant Run-off Voting?

And quickly now, name the candidates for the fourth-most politically visible executive position in the state.

If you know all the answers, you are an informed voter who also may be in need of a hobby.

The position in question is, of course, Pierce County executive.

After the King County executive, the governor and the mayor of Seattle, it is the next most visible and important political administrative position in the state. Incumbent Executive John Ladenburg is term limited and is running for state attorney general. Four candidates are running to replace him.

Republican Pierce County Council member Shawn Bunney (Lake Tapps/Sumner area) announced last December his interest in being executive and is the only candidate in the field who can use the Republican label. He has been on the council since 2002.

Democratic County Council member Calvin Goings from Puyallup was the first to announce in 2006 — almost two years in advance. Goings’s election signs went up last year about the same time most people were putting up Christmas lights. The former state senator created a bit of an inter-party skirmish when he said he would fire the planning director and the sewer utility director. Fellow Democrat John Ladenburg, the directors’ boss, didn’t seem to appreciate the advice.

Others viewed it in the context of Goings’s interest in getting support from the development community such as the Realtors, who endorsed him, or the Master Builders who did not. The Master Builders, a powerful pro-development voice, chose to endorse County Auditor Pat McCarthy for executive. She was previously deputy auditor and served on the Tacoma School Board.

Although McCarthy has raised less money than the others, she is well-known, has campaigned county-wide, and is the only female in the race.

The fourth candidate in the race is Tacoma City Council member Mike Lonergan. Because the political parties can decide who can use their label, Republican Lonergan lost out to Bunney for the Republican label. Lonergan then chose his own label, the Executive Excellence Party. Because of Ranked Choice Voting (RCV), there was no primary to whittle the field to a lesser number. The public voted to establish a new system in Instant Run-off Voting, which is the same thing as RCV.

Pierce County voters will rank their choices as first, second and third for executive, sheriff, assessor and county council.

When counting the ballots, the last-place finisher in each race will be eliminated and their votes distributed among the remaining candidates per the voters’ choice. This elimination will provide an “instant run-off” that will result in a winner.

To ensure the good health of the Federal Way Mirror’s editor, publisher and attorneys, please read your voter’s pamphlet for an explanation more legally succinct than mine.

To add to the issue, Pierce County voters will also be voting on candidates like governor who are not part of RCV so voters will get two ballots.

Remember, I told you to read the voter’s pamphlet.

As to the candidates themselves, sources tell me they think it will come down to Bunney and McCarthy. Bunney will likely corral most of the normal Republican vote while McCarthy and Goings split the Democratic vote and try to attract independents.

While this may be a Democratic year, more importantly, it may be a year when women voters make the difference. If that is true, McCarthy may have the broader support and pick up enough second choice votes to move past Goings and Lonergan and challenge Bunney. If not, watch Goings.

Other sources also say that while it is a competitive field with candidates that have different strengths and weaknesses, one commented, “There isn’t a Booth Gardner in the group.” Gardner was Pierce County’s first executive prior to serving two terms as governor.

The comment suggests that whoever wins, that person may have to do a lot of on-the-job training.

King County voters should pay attention to the process as many are urging King County to consider adopting Ranked Choice Voting.

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner, a former mayor of Auburn, can be reached at bjroegner@comcast.net.

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Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He is a former president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and lives in Vancouver. Contact thebrunells@msn.com.
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