John Lovick restored a culture of integrity and transparency to the office of Snohomish County Executive. His inspired leadership style, conditioned by years of public service, from the Coast Guard to the Washington State Patrol to the Legislature and county sheriff, has invigorated the faith and morale of county employees.
Lovick’s appointment was a catharsis for scandal-weary residents, distrustful of county government after the abuses and arrogance of the Aaron Reardon era. Moral leadership exists, and few leaders exhibit it as well as Lovick.
The Oso mudslide gave expression to Lovick’s lead-by-example humility. He actively worked behind the scenes, comforting grieving families, volunteering at the recovery centers and preparing and delivering meals. He didn’t grandstand. He was the right leader at the right time.
Lovick’s challenge is building on the reservoir of goodwill he’s earned and articulating a more issue-specific vision. Asked how he differs policy-wise from the previous administration, Lovick returns to the culture of respectability. He can be painfully wishy-washy on the options for a new courthouse. He also hasn’t provided a systemic remedy for the misuse of county computers and information technology — a return to executive oversight after the Kevin Hulten scandal isn’t a fail-safe. Similarly, a few Reardon cronies, who contributed to administration mischief, need to be given the heave-ho, not comfortable gigs with fat salaries.
Lovick needs to use the primary and general election campaign to leaven his message with specifics. The best vehicle is a vigorous, budget and issue-oriented debate with his Republican opponent, Sultan Mayor Carolyn Eslick.
If and when Snohomish County elects a Republican executive, it’s likely to be a business-savvy moderate like Eslick. Her austerity message when it comes to staff raises and courthouse costs should resonate with voters. Her focus on criminal justice also will find an audience, although some of her recommendations such as reviving Camp Evergreen and maximizing resources to serve those living with mental illness will be costly. She acknowledges that moving from mayor to exec is a big step, but it’s informed by years of experience as a business owner and elected official.
James Deal, running as a Democrat, is an earnest and capable attorney, advocating a number of novel ideas from a flex-van system (good) to banishing fluoride (a fringe cause).
Lovick and Eslick, two fine candidates, should go forth into battle. The fall campaign provides a platform for a substantive discussion about Snohomish County’s future.