Appointed county councilman’s youth, connections criticized

Candidates for Snohomish County Council, District 1, are (clockwise from top left) Chris Ihler, Ray Miller, Robert Sutherland and Nate Nehring.

Candidates for Snohomish County Council, District 1, are (clockwise from top left) Chris Ihler, Ray Miller, Robert Sutherland and Nate Nehring.

MARYSVILLE — Nate Nehring’s youth and political ties were objects of curiosity when he was appointed in January as the youngest person ever to serve on the Snohomish County Council.

Now, the 22-year-old son of Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring finds himself under attack by two Republicans who were passed over for the nomination. One opponent is handing out a campaign door hanger that accuses the younger Nehring of “treating nepotism as a virtue.”

“It seems to me that this is an act of desperation,” Nate Nehring said. “I’m proud of my family’s record of service.”

The door hanger is being passed around by Republican Chris Ihler. The 35-year-old, who lives in Marysville and has worked in e-commerce, is making his first run for public office. Also in the race: Democrat Raymond Miller, 67, a retired Air Force veteran from Marysville and Republican Robert Sutherland, 57, a retired biochemist, Air Force vet and three-time political candidate who lives near Granite Falls.

The top two finishers from the Aug. 1 primary will advance to the general election. They’re vying for a four-year term representing Council District 1. The job pays $117,534 per year.

Nate Nehring, without question, is the establishment candidate. He was the top choice of county Republicans to fill a council vacancy and later won the support from four County Council members for the appointment.

Since then, he’s been a punctual presence, often taking pains to explain his votes. He sided with a 3-2 majority of the council in March to support a $72 million renovation of the county courthouse. He cited free-market principles in February when he voted with the losing faction against imposing 2,500-foot buffers between new marijuana stores in unincorporated areas.

“I’d tell voters that I’m a better choice because I’ve been in the office since the beginning of the year and I have a record,” he said.

He graduated from Western Washington University last year and left a contract teaching job at Marysville’s Cedarcrest Middle School to join the council. He lives in Stanwood.

His father has served as Marysville’s nonpartisan mayor since 2010 and enjoys a solid reputation among leaders in both major parties.

On the campaign trail, the younger Nehring has racked up impressive endorsements and turned on the fundraising spigots. By this week, his campaign war chest topped $80,000 — about eight times more than his next-closest opponent. He has the backing of the same sort of blue-chip donors who lined up behind predecessors John Koster, who left the council after 2013 because of term limits, and Ken Klein, who opened the most recent vacancy when he left to take a management job with County Executive Dave Somers.

The political connections run deeper. Ken Klein’s wife, Juliana Klein, is running Nehring’s campaign. As his county legislative aide, Nehring hired Sultan City Councilman Russell Wiita, who also is 22. Wiita and Nehring both serve as chairmen of different GOP district groups.

It all smacks of backroom political deals to Ihler, who was among the nine people who put in his name to fill Klein’s former seat but wasn’t nominated by the party. His recently produced campaign door hanger is emblazoned with the words “scam alert.”

Ihler said his campaign is an echo of what he’s hearing from potential voters.

“They don’t like the idea that they can’t point to a single qualification for Nate Nehring being there other than that he is the Marysville mayor’s son,” Ihler said.

In his campaign door hanger, Ihler claims to have managed $400 million while working at Seattle tech giant Amazon.com. In an interview, he said the figure refers to money he handled at an accounts-payable job, not managing a budget. He said he secured the job through a staffing agency and stayed about a year.

Ihler said he would have readily supported another candidate, had he been able to convince anyone else to get in.

“I’m not a perfect candidate, but I am the best candidate we have to represent the voice of the district and to stop the exploitation by the politicians,” he said.

Ihler’s campaign reported about $1,600, mostly his own money.

Sutherland said he hadn’t seen Ihler’s campaign literature, but agrees with the critiques. He also tried for the nomination, without success. He called Nehring the least qualified of the nine contenders.

“It was all worked out ahead of time. No one else had a chance,” he said. “It was nepotism, favoritism, cronyism at its worst.”

Sutherland has run for office every year since 2014, twice for Congress and once for county executive.

“I haven’t won because I’ve picked very hard battles,” he said.

Sutherland reported raising about $8,500 for this election cycle. The largest single donation, for $1,000, came from Peter Zieve, the president of a successful Mukilteo aerospace firm who stirred up controversy for opposing plans to build a local mosque. Zieve later reached a $485,000 settlement with the state Attorney General’s Office over claims of an anti-Muslim workplace and bias against unmarried people at his company. He has filed to run for a spot on the Mukilteo City Council.

A leader in the Snohomish County GOP said Nehring’s nomination was above board.

“I think it’s a little bit of sour grapes,” said Jim Kellett, vice chairman of the county Republicans. “They’re blaming other things they shouldn’t be blaming. It’s their own background, it’s how they presented themselves and how they answered the questionnaire.”

The party is standing behind Nehring as he seeks his first term in office, Kellett said. After the interviews, Kellett said Ihler promised to support whoever was selected, but Sutherland did not make the same pledge.

Miller, the Democrat, said he’s staying out of the GOP fracas.

“They have to decide what kind of party they want, who they want their candidate to be,” he said. “I don’t have any comments on that.”

Miller wants to focus on his own record of helping veterans obtain services. He’s a certified chemical dependency counselor. Miller also noted that he’s the only candidate in the race who has been elected to serve in public office. Miller was one of 15 people chosen by voters in 2015 for the county Charter Review Commission.

Miller’s campaign reported more than $10,000, much of it his own money or in-kind contributions.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; nhaglund@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @NWhaglund.

• This story has been modified to show the correct photo of Chris Ihler.

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