Opinion

Changes brewing in county offices

Political

Columnist

When it comes to politics, do voters around here still want change?

We’ll know later this summer, specifically Aug. 18. That’s when voters will decide which two candidates for King County executive advance to the November ballot.

The race for the region’s most powerful post was left wide open when Ron Sims resigned to take a high-ranking post in the Obama Administration. Some people believe that Sims left deep shoes to fill. Actually, what he left was a deep deficit that his successor will have to clean up. Five credible contenders want the job. Two are liberal county councilmen from Seattle who can’t stand each other. Two are moderately liberal legislators from the eastside who are close friends. And one, the lone woman in the race, is a moderately conservative political outsider. Let’s start with her.

Susan Hutchison was a popular news anchor for KIRO-TV for more than 20 years. She now heads a local foundation and has more than twice the name recognition of any of her opponents. Her biggest advantage? She’s never run before. Her biggest liability? She’s never run before. But if voters want a genuine outsider – and they might – she is their candidate (susanhutchison.com).

If Hutchison is the best known candidate, Larry Phillips is the best organized, with the biggest war chest. He was in county government 25 years ago, served a stint in the Legislature from Seattle’s Queen Anne Hill area and soon jumped to the County Council, where he’s been eying the executive’s office for most of this decade. His major drawback: at a time when many people aren’t happy with King County government, he’s had more influence on its current size and shape than any other council member (larryphillips.com).

Phillips isn’t the only councilman who wants a promotion. Dow Constantine represented West Seattle in the state Legislature and moved up to the council seven years ago. He and Phillips agree about 90 percent of the time and despise each other. But rather than take on Phillips, Constantine has attacked Hutchison, reasoning that he’ll generate more headlines and accolades from liberal voters by ripping the more conservative newcomer than a fellow Democrat. But sooner or later, Constantine has to make the case that he, rather than Phillips, should advance to the general election (dowconstantine.com).

And now for the eastsiders...Fred Jarrett wants end a long and distinguished career in both the public and private sectors by taking the reins of county government. A liberal Republican turned liberal Democrat, Jarrett offers himself as a suburban alternative to the Seattle Democratic machine that has controlled the courthouse for most of the last dozen years. Biggest drawback: skeptics wonder if Jarrett is too affable and not quite tough enough to force genuine change in county government (vote4fred.com).

Ross Hunter, a former Microsoft executive and rising star in the Legislature from Medina, announced his candidacy in late spring and has been eating into Jarrett’s eastside base with each passing day. If Hutchison offers a new face, Hunter offers a fresh one. He is smart enough to know that union demands on a compliant council have created deficits and service cutbacks that simply cannot be sustained, let alone perpetuated. Biggest drawback: his campaign needs more energy, more populism, and less wonk-talk if he hopes to catch fire (rosshunter.com).

Even though politics isn’t a summer sport, follow this race. Elections reveal public moods. We may know as early as Aug. 18 what voters will likely do in November of 2009 and maybe November of 2010.

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