GOP veteran faces 2 newcomers in 39th District race

ARLINGTON — The decision of Republican state Rep. Elizabeth Scott to forgo re-election is creating an opportunity for a GOP veteran to return to the state Legislature.

Republican John Koster, who served three terms as a state lawmaker then 12 years on the Snohomish County Council, is one of three candidates seeking to succeed Scott as a representative in the 39th Legislative District.

Also competing are Democrat Ronda Metcalf and Libertarian Shane Driscoll, both of whom are making their first run for political office.

The top two finishers in the Aug. 2 primary will face-off in November with the winner earning a two-year term representing communities in northeast Snohomish County and rural areas of Skagit and King counties. Arlington, Monroe and Sultan are among the larger cities in the district.

Scott, the popular lawmaker from Monroe, passed on re-election in order to run for Congress. But she ended that bid in May citing health reasons.

Koster, 64, of Arlington, who is looking to return to Olympia where he served from 1995 to 2001, said he’s not lost his enthusiasm for public service.

“I have not become cynical in my years in politics. I still believe one person can make a difference,” he said. “I believe I can make a difference. I am not going back to play Tiddlywinks.”

Koster had to leave the County Council in 2013 due to term limits. Soon after, then county executive, John Lovick, a Democrat, hired Koster to be Snohomish County’s first ombudsman. But in December 2014 county councilmembers didn’t reappoint Koster.

Lovick urged them to say no because of Koster’s decision to lend his name to a fundraising letter for the Freedom Foundation, a conservative think tank that often battles with public workers’ unions. Koster filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the county, alleging wrongful termination and violations of free speech. Trial is now scheduled for May 2017.

The last time Koster was in Olympia, he said he helped pass important regulatory reforms. If he returns, he said one of his focuses will be to increase the Legislature’s oversight of agency rule-making efforts.

Next year, the major issue the Legislature must resolve is how to amply fund public schools by 2018 as required by the state Supreme Court in the McCleary case. It has been estimated that full compliance could cost the state as $2 billion-a-year more than it now spends on education.

Koster said he prefers to find a solution without any new taxes and said he absolutely opposes creation of a capital gains tax.

“There is no quick and easy answer,” Koster said.

Metcalf, 54, is general manager of the Sauk Suiattle Tribe and a former member of the tribal council. She’s also a U.S. Army veteran and worked as a corrections officer in Portland, Oregon.

A self-described progressive, she said she wants to improve the state’s transportation and public school systems, and expand behavioral health programs including those targeting abuse of heroin and opioid.

She said she decided to run because she was “not real happy with some of the things coming out of Olympia.”

“We need people in Olympia who will work to make life better for individuals and families throughout Washington,” she said. “I think Olympia is ready for me and I am ready for Olympia.”

Regarding McCleary, she said she supported the capital gains tax put forth by Gov. Jay Inslee last year. If elected, she said she would be open to voting for such a proposal after studying the specifics.

Driscoll, 42, works in cloud sales for an information technology company in Seattle. He said his motivation is to bring a fresh perspective to the conversation.

“We as a society are becoming more and more fractured and becoming more and at each other’s throats,” he said. “At the end of the day I feel strongly about two things: I want the candidate to bridge those divides and I believe freedom is the answer.”

If elected, he wants to focus on expanding educational opportunities for all students and reforming banking and regulation rules in Washington.

On complying with McCleary, he said new taxes are not needed to cover the costs. There is enough money in the budget if lawmakers are willing to make the tough decisions on how best to allocate it, he said.

Another matter of wide interest this year is the initiative to boost the state’s minimum wage to $13.50 an hour, and provide workers with paid sick leave. Initiative 1433 is one of the few ballot measures candidates are well enough versed to comment on.

Koster and Driscoll oppose the measure. Driscoll said its passage would eventually cause prices of food, clothing and shelter to rise and would not end economic inequality.

Unlike her opponents, Metcalf said she strongly supports the initiative to raise the minimum wage. As a tribal council member, she voted in 2007 to provide a minimum $15-an-hour wage to all employees of the tribe.

Koster enjoys a large advantage in fund-raising. He had reported $44,213 in contributions as of Thursday, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission website. Of that, he’s spent $27,456.

Metcalf had collected $11,962 in donations and $6,397 in expenditures, online records show. Driscoll said he has not raised any money yet but might start if he advances through the primary.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; Twitter: @dospueblos

What’s the job?

At stake is a two-year term in the state House of Representatives representing the 39th Legislative District, Position 2. The district includes northeast Snohomish County along with areas of King and Skagit counties. The annual salary is $45,474.

Ronda Metcalf

Residence: Darrington

Age: 54

Party: Democrat

Experience: General Manager, Sauk-Suiattle Tribe; former elected member of the tribal council; U.S. Army veteran; former corrections officer, Multnomah County, Ore.


Shane Driscoll

Residence: Marysville

Age: 42

Party: Libertarian

Experience: Cloud sales for Seattle IT company


John Koster

Residence: Arlington

Age: 64

Party: Republican

Experience: State representative, 1995-2001; Snohomish County Councilman, 2001-13; Snohomish County ombudsman, current member Snohomish County Charter Review Commission; dairy farmer, 20 years.


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