County votes in new sheriff

PACIFIC COUNTY — Voters decided it was time for a new sheriff, but there were no other big shake-ups in the Nov. 6 General Election.

About 10,900 people turned in ballots this year, up 13 percent from the 8,357 who voted in the most recent mid-term, non-presidential-year election in 2014. Four contested races for county-wide offices and a highly charged national political environment spurred voter interest this year.

Voters picked well-known locals to fill two empty seats. Rock quarry owner Michael “Hawk” Runyon will join the Board of County Commissioners, and businesswoman Debbie Oakes will join the PUD board. Several county officials in uncontested races easily kept their seats. And while all of the incumbents in U.S. and state legislative races faced challengers, they too managed to hang on to their seats.

In Pacific County, voter participation was good, but not great — the county had its sixth-highest voter turnout of the last 15 years.

Since 2003, Pacific County voters have participated in above-average numbers in all but two years. In 2018, local voters were significantly more active than voters in many of the state’s 39 counties. With 73.5 percent of all registered voters in the county participating, Pacific had the ninth-highest turnout of the 39 counties.

Statewide, an average of about 66 percent of voters turned in ballots. Garfield and Jefferson counties had the best turnout, with just over 82 percent of voters participating. Meanwhile, a measly 43 percent of Skagit County voters participated, and in Yakima, the rate was an abysmal 37 percent.

Vote-counts will be finalized at the end of the month. As of Nov. 12, there were roughly 500 to 600 ballots in the 19th Legislative District that had not been counted yet.

Incumbent U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-WA, easily defeated former journalist Susan Hutchison, a Republican from Seattle. Statewide, Cantwell had a lead of more than 17 percentage points. The race was much closer in Pacific County, where Cantwell led by just 1.44 percentage points.

Pacific was one of 14 of Washington’s 39 counties where Cantwell won — all but Whitman were west of the Cascades.

Cantwell has been in office since 2000. She has supported various coastal causes, including obtaining dredging funds for small ports and improving tsunami-warning systems and preparation.

Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler narrowly won Pacific County with 50.71 percent of the vote, in comparison to challenger Carolyn Long’s 49.29 percent. Statewide, Herrera Beutler won with 52.86 percent of the vote. She has held her position since 2011.

Notably, the only county Herrera Beutler lost was Clark County, where she lives. Long also lives in Clark County and works as a political science professor at Washington State University’s Vancouver campus.

Long held over 40 in-person town halls throughout the district. Herrera Beutler didn’t hold any.

One-term incumbent Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, lost Pacific and Grays Harbor counties but narrowly won overall with a lead of 536 votes. In Pacific County, Walsh received 46.92 percent of the vote, in comparison to challenger Erin Frasier’s 53.08 percent. District-wide, Walsh won 50.48 percent of the vote. Walsh took majorities in Lewis, Cowlitz and Wahkiakum counties. Lewis County, where be bested Frasier by more than two-to-one, was a factor in Walsh’s win.

Frasier, a Democrat, is a Ph.D-holding workforce development expert from Pe Ell. This election was the second in which Walsh faced tough competition from a female Democrat. In 2016, he faced Teresa Purcell, a public relations consultant.

In that race, Walsh also narrowly lost Pacific County but won the district overall.

Incumbent state Rep. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen, defeated first-time Republican candidate Joel McEntire, a Cathlamet teacher.

District-wide, Blake, who has been in office since 2002, did better in the August Primary, in which he won 58 percent of votes, than he did in the General Election, when he won 54 percent. He nonetheless finished with a lead of 8 percent. In Pacific County, he led by 14 points. McEntire prevailed only in conservative Lewis County and in his home county, Wahkiakum.

McEntire fared significantly better than Blake’s other challengers in the recent past. In 2012, Blake defeated Independent Tim Sutinen by about 16 points. In 2014, he defeated Republican Hugh Fleet by nearly 27 points, and in 2016, Blake he beat Republican Jimi O’Hagan by nearly 20 points.

Between the Primary and General elections, Blake made the controversial decision to give $65,000 in campaign funds to ex-rep J.D. Rossetti’s new printing business. Rossetti has admitted to abusing his estranged wife, and his alleged misconduct as a Longview school board member was widely publicized. Blake has said he doesn’t think he did anything wrong by hiring Rossetti, but Democratic officials say he may face post-election repercussions.

Prior to the election, the House was almost evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. As a swing-voter, Blake had a certain amount of clout because his vote could decide hotly-contested matters. However, Democrats now have a solid majority in the House, so their allegiance to Blake is no longer guaranteed.

“For Brian to go ahead and hand over his business to J.D. Rossetti when he had other choices is deeply disappointing,” said Tina Podlodowski, chair of the Washington State Democratic Party. Podlodowski said Blake’s spending “certainly does not represent Democratic values.” The chairwoman said party leaders want to know why Rossetti’s services cost so much. She anticipated further discussion of Blake’s spending before the next legislative session.

“I think the question will be, ‘What is the caucus going to want to do with Brian?’ I can’t imagine the caucus won’t have some issues,” Podlodowski said.

“We have a standard that we expect our consultants, campaign staff, to meet. J.D. Rossetti does not meet that standard for us,” Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, a member of the House Democratic Caucus and House Democratic Campaign Committee, said. Stonier noted that reps are likely to discuss Blake’s decision during their annual review of their ethics policy.

The only real upset in local elections was first-time candidate Robin Souvenir’s sound defeat of Sheriff Scott Johnson, a two-term incumbent. Even as polls closed, many locals thought the race would be extremely close. But in the end, Souvenir, a former Pacific County Sheriff’s Office deputy and current chief of the Shoalwater Bay Tribal Police, won the election by 688 votes — a nearly seven-point lead.

In the Primary, Souvenir’s supporters were almost exclusively in the northern part of the county, where he is better known. In the General, however, Souvenir prevailed in 28 of 40 precincts, including every precinct on the Peninsula. Johnson, on the other hand, won both his home precinct — Naselle — and Souvenir’s — Bay Center.

Johnson, a former Washington State Patrol trooper, saw his support erode in the face of rampant property crime in parts of the county and perceived problems with sheriff’s office response.

“It’s very exciting and I’ve been talking to quite a few folks. It’s gonna be good,” Souvenir said on Nov. 8. Souvenir plans to stay on at the Shoalwater Reservation for a few weeks, to help the tribe make a smooth transition. But he’ll also be very busy preparing to take office on Jan. 1. He planned to meet with Sheriff’s Office command staff soon to let them know whom he’s planning to have on his leadership team. He’ll be attending the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs conference in Chelan, and enrolling in “sheriff school” a state-run program that teaches new sheriffs the unique privileges and duties that come with the job.

Souvenir said he spoke with Johnson last week.

“We talked about the importance of doing what’s best for the community, and what’s best for the employees,” Souvenir said. “It’s going to be smooth. We’re both going to be grownups about it.”

One-term incumbent Mark McClain won with 59.02 percent of the vote, compared to challenger Pam Nogueira Maneman’s 40.98 percent.

McClain has 18 years of legal experience. He’s worked on several high-profile cases while in Pacific County.

“The [community] wanted to see us continue in our relentless pursuit of significant prison sentences for those who damage our community,” McClain said. “They favored our judicious use of prison-based treatment alternatives which ensured those who need treatment receive it, but not at a cost to our community.”

Nogueira Maneman is a criminal defense, family law and personal injury attorney for the Aberdeen firm Ingram, Zelasko and Goodwin. She immigrated to the U.S. after completing a foreign-exchange program in Pacific County. She is a graduate of the University of Washington, where she earned her law degree. Nogueira Maneman previously worked as a clerk for former Pacific County Superior Court Judge Michael Sullivan.

One of the issues Nogueira Maneman discussed during campaigning was the prosecutor’s office software. McClain said the prosecutor’s office has gained support from the Board of Commissioners to get updated software. He also said he wants to improve coroner functions by working with a healthcare provider on coroner cases.

Michael “Hawk” Runyon had a solid victory over his opponent, Todd Stephens. Runyon took about 57 percent of the vote, compared to Stephens’ 43 percent.

Neither man campaigned much, but Runyon’s well-known business, “Hawk’s Rocks” and his previous controversial tenure as mayor of Raymond may have given him greater name recognition.

Runyon, who was the subject of an unsuccessful recall campaign while serving as mayor, did not respond to five attempts to reach him.

Runyon will represent the northern third of the county, currently represented by Commissioner Lisa Ayers, who with her husband is retiring to Klickitat County.

A hometown advantage was more impactful than job experience for the role of PUD commissioner seat #2. Debbie Oakes won with 57.47 percent of the vote, compared to challenger Donald Pape’s 42.52 percent.

Oakes, a longtime Peninsula resident, has significant community ties. She and her husband John operated a commercial fishing business for 40 years, which they sold earlier this year.

She also served as a school board member for the Ocean Beach School District in the 1990s.

Pape and his wife Lynda have lived on the Peninsula for about nine years. He has 42 years of electrical utility experience, including a 34-year career with Idaho Power. Pape’s additional experience comes from the Western Electric Coordinating Council and Clark Public Utilities.

Oakes takes over the seat currently held by long-time PUD commission Chairwoman Diana Thompson.

Oakes’ primary goals as PUD commissioner include improving transparency and communication between the PUD board and public, as well as creating a longterm strategic plan.

Oakes considers herself to be fiscally conservative.

“It’s important people understand what they’re paying for with the PUD,” Oakes said. She hopes to get more public input at PUD meetings and is interested in possibly changing meeting times and sending a customer survey to residents.

Another focus of Oakes is securing better high-speed broadband internet for the area.

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