MARYSVILLE — As Nate Nehring’s political opponents have assailed his youth and brief work history, the appointed Snohomish County councilman has stayed busy winning over some of the most-tested brands in local politics.
The 22-year-old Republican has endorsements from the likes of Bob Drewel, the former Democratic county executive. Also in Nehring’s corner: John Koster, a Republican state lawmaker from Arlington who served 12 years in what is now Nehring’s seat. All of the Republican state lawmakers who represent parts of north Snohomish County are supporting the appointee.
“Nate is blessed at an early age with this strongly held ethic that he can play a role in making people’s lives better,” said Drewel, who lives in Arlington and now works as an adviser for Washington State University. “I applaud anyone who wants to step forward and do it. I just think that he might come out of the box a little quicker.”
Nehring is one of four candidates trying to win a four-year term in the County Council’s District 1. The top two will advance from the Aug. 1 primary to the general election in November. The district includes Marysville, Arlington, Stanwood, Granite Falls and Darrington, plus all of unincorporated north Snohomish County except for Tulalip. The job pays $117,534 per year.
Nehring, who lives in Stanwood, was appointed in January. He received the most support among the nine Republicans who sought their party’s nomination and went on to seal the deal with a unanimous vote of the County Council. The seat opened up after Ken Klein resigned to work in County Executive Dave Somers’ administration.
At the time, Nehring was in his first year teaching middle school science after graduating from Western Washington University.
Chris Ihler, 35, has been Nehring’s loudest critic. The first-time candidate has been a workhorse for other Republicans seeking office. Now, the Marysville man with a background in online retail is putting that experience to use.
Ihler said Nehring, “has no accomplishments or qualifications” for the job. He’s been handing out campaign literature that accuses Nehring and his father, Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring, of nepotism.
The other Republican candidate, Robert Sutherland, 57, also takes a dim view of the younger Nehring’s readiness for office. Sutherland, who lives near Granite Falls, is an Air Force veteran who went on to work as a biochemist.
Sutherland has run unsuccessfully for Congress twice and county executive once. His forays into politics have irked establishment Republicans, but he wears his outsider status with pride. He said circumstances compelled him to jump in.
“The races I’ve been in, not a single one has been planned,” he said.
Democrat Raymond Miller, of Marysville, also is in the hunt to represent the Republican-leaning district. An Air Force vet and substance-abuse counselor, Miller has served on the county’s charter review commission and several appointed boards.
“I didn’t start overnight,” he said of his public engagement. “I’ve been doing it for more than 30 years.”
Nehring enjoys a whopping fundraising advantage — about three and a half times more than the other candidates combined. His nearly $85,000 earlier this week compared to about $10,500 for Miller, about $8,600 for Sutherland and $5,200 for Ihler, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission.
Not everyone is backing the favorite.
Marysville City Councilman Michael Stevens was among the county GOP’s three nominees to fill the vacancy. Stevens has declined to endorse any of the candidates, including Nate Nehring, despite what he describes as a good rapport and friendship with Mayor Jon Nehring.
“In a nutshell, I’m not supporting him or the other candidates based on qualifications, or based on my ideas of what the qualifications are,” he said.
Stevens said he’s no sore loser. Had things turned out differently, he would have backed any one of several Republicans who didn’t make it through the nomination process. He said he gave his word that he wouldn’t run against the winner, if it wasn’t him.
Darrington Town Councilman Kevin Ashe, on the other hand, said Nehring has been “a very pleasant surprise.” Like Stevens, Ashe was a finalist who was passed over for the appointment.
“He’s been very accessible,” he said. “He’s been to Darrington several times. He probably knows Darrington-area rural issues as well as anyone else on the County Council.”
Ashe said Nehring is attuned to local efforts to promote tourism and logging. Nehring has been in contact about a plan to pave the rest of the Mountain Loop Highway and he understands concerns about restoring grizzly bears in the North Cascades, according to Ashe.
Koster, who represented Nehring’s district for a dozen years, considers his successor “a quick study.”
The attacks don’t sit well with him.
“People are tired of all of the vitriol in politics and this doesn’t help,” Koster said. “Trying to get elected by tearing somebody else down, I’ve seen way too much of that.”
Two other county councilmen have challengers this year. Republican Sam Low faces Democrats Kristin Kelly and Tara Schumacher in District 5. Democrat Terry Ryan is opposed by Republican Marcus Barton in District 4.
Ballots are set to be mailed on July 13.